Leaders and land managers from various Yukon First Nations gathered in Whitehorse on Wednesday to attend a one-day workshop on how to negotiate better agreements with mining companies.
Nineteen delegates participated in the event, which was organized by the Firelight Group and Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and held at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.
Sarah Newton, manager of lands and resources at Liard First Nation, said the workshop is important because it clears some of the misconceptions that are inevitably associated with those important agreements, struck between First Nations and mining companies.
“Our agreements with proponents are the most powerful mechanism to gain benefits from projects,” she said.
“These agreements are crucial to the future prosperity of aboriginal communities. We received good strategies to ensure the communities are involved and their needs are considered with these agreements.”
Thirteen advisors were on hand to provide one-on-one dialogue and help those in attendance get a better grasp of the contractual agreements their communities sign with companies.
Ginger Gibson, director of the Firelight Group, facilitated Wednesday’s event. She said the workshop was a safe place for information to be shared among Yukon First Nations.
“We’ve been hearing about the unique characteristics in which each nation approaches making agreements with other parties,” she said.
“It’s a really good opportunity for people to share information collectively. Yukon First Nations have been negotiating for a long time and have many years under their belt. We’ve brought a new tool into the mix.”
In 2010, the foundation published the IBA Community Toolkit, a free resource for aboriginal communities considering impact benefit agreements, specifically with mining companies.
Gibson said the workshop was a good opportunity to improve the toolkit and keep it up to date.
Participants and advisors also discussed the recent tailings pond breach at the Imperial Metals Mount Polley mine near Likely, B.C. Some fear the spill may have contaminated a number of waterways upstream of several Yukon First Nations communities, although water quality tests at the site have come back within drinking water guidelines and provincial health officials insist the spill won’t adversely affect fish.
Negotiator Allen Edzerza said Mount Polley is proof that First Nations need to have steps in place to do certain actions, should similar accidents occur in their communities.
“People are connected to the land and it’s their responsibility to protect it for future generations,” he said.
“The First Nations up here have a long history of negotiation experience. They’ve dealt with big issues around land and wildlife and serious environmental concerns.”
Edzerza mentioned the toxic mess BYG Natural Resources Inc. left behind after they closed down the Mount Nansen gold and silver mine in 1999.
He also singled out the Faro mine site remediation project.
“When you take a look at Mount Polley, you realize that Yukon has had its own Mount Polley.”
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