VANCOUVER / xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh & səl̓ilwətaʔɬ territories – On December 15, 2022, the BC Supreme Court will begin to hear from a wide range of applicants seeking permission to intervene in the Gitxaała Nation’s litigation, which challenges provincial mineral claims granted without Indigenous consultation or consent.
The First Nations Leadership Council, four individual Indigenous nations, six environmental and community groups, and two mineral exploration businesses are seeking to make legal arguments against BC’s “free entry” mineral claim staking regime.
“BC is breaching Gitxaała law by giving away mineral rights in our territories without even speaking to us, and we believe our case will demonstrate that BC is breaking its own laws as well,” said Gitxaała Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas (Matthew Hill). “The fact that so many are standing with us in court sends a clear message: BC’s mineral claim regime is colonialism in action; it continues to cause harm to Indigenous peoples across the province, and it is well past time for change.”
Under the Mineral Tenure Act, virtually anyone can become a “free miner” and then acquire mineral rights online for a nominal fee through an automated system. There is no requirement for Indigenous consultation or consent. Gitxaała’s case argues that this system is inconsistent with BC’s constitutional obligations to Indigenous peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“We were pleased to see BC’s commitments this year to modernize the Mineral Tenure Act to align it with UNDRIP,” said Gitxaała Chief Councillor Linda Innes. “But so far BC has continued to fight us tooth and nail in court rather than act on its promise. All those joining us in the courtroom underline why it’s time for the BC government to walk the talk on UNDRIP, by taking concrete action to begin overhaul of the Mineral Tenure Act in partnership with Gitxaała and other Indigenous peoples. Ensuring respect for Indigenous rights is in everyone’s interest, including the mining industry, the general public and the lands and waters that sustain us all.”
Gitxaała’s full case is scheduled to be heard in April 2023, alongside a similar legal challenge to mineral claims recently launched by the Ehattesaht First Nation.