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Report condemns BC mining laws

A new report out of Harvard Law School's human rights program confirms what many First Nations in this province have been saying for years: that mining laws are unfair, unconstitutional, and in need of urgent reform.

The report focuses on how mining activity has affected the Takla Lake First Nation, whose traditional territory lies northwest of Prince George. After conducting a legal analysis of the mining regime in B.C., and interviewing Takla members, government officials and industry representatives, researchers concluded that the cumulative effect of mining activity in the region is a serious threat to the Takla way of life.

"First Nations suffer the consequences of a regime that favors mining over the environment and indigenous culture," said research director Bonnie Docherty in a press release. "British Columbia should reform its laws to elevate fundamental aboriginal rights."

"It's something we've been saying all along," said Dolly Abraham, chief of the Takla Lake First Nation. "The report is given from more of an outside point of view and from professionals. . . I would hope it would open the government's eyes as to Takla’s concerns over our aboriginal rights and title being impacted."

First Nations in Canada have a legal right to self-determination, which means they have the right to decide how their traditional lands and resources are used. The report found that B.C.'s mining laws "on their face and in their implementation" have not offered the Takla adequate consultation on projects, or assurances that these projects won't harm their resources or health.

According to the report:

"While Takla has good relations with some mining companies, it has generally been ambivalent or even hostile to new projects. This attitude stems largely from the fact that community members feel excluded from the process that reviews proposals and inundated with mining claims and projects on their traditional territory. In addition, Takla -- home to exploration sites, a major open-pit mine, and several abandoned operations -- has seen the range of harms caused by different stages of mining. Members of Takla widely report destruction of habitat, a decrease in wildlife, and a fear of health problems from contaminants."

Abraham is also a member of a group called First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining.

"I think there's a way that it would benefit all people if they would only sit here and let us participate and let us tell them where it's okay for them to do mining, and where it's directly impacting on our food and animals, and habitat," she said.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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