Bella Coola Nuxalk Nation territory Michael Wigle

Nuxalk Nation issues eviction notice to B.C. exploration company, igniting calls for mining reform

As the province’s glaciers disappear, more and more deposits are becoming available to exploration companies, which are allowed to register mineral claims and apply for permits without obtaining consent from Indigenous communities

The Nuxalk Nation on B.C.’s central coast issued an eviction notice Monday to Juggernaut Exploration, a Vancouver-based company that received two permits for exploratory work in the nation’s territory without gaining consent from the community.

The Nuxalkmc Stataltmc, which is the nation’s hereditary leadership, ordered an immediate halt to the company’s exploratory work on the nation’s territory. The eviction notice received written support from the elected Nuxalk chief and council.

“Our lands have been illegally occupied by British Columbia and Canada in their various forms since the time of the gold rush,” Nuskmata Jacinda Mack, speaking on behalf of the Stataltmc, told The Narwhal in an interview. “It’s our duty and our responsibility to protect these lands — so that’s what we’re doing.” 

B.C.’s mining laws do not require companies to obtain consent from Indigenous communities before registering mineral claims or filing for permits, which critics have called archaic and colonial. The province adopted the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law in 2019 and published a draft implementation plan in June, but has yet to move forward with amending mining legislation.

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Juggernaut received two five-year permits from the province in November 2020 and March 2021 authorizing exploratory work at a pair of sites near the town of Bella Coola. One permit for exploratory mining work is on Qw’miixw (Mount Pootlass), a glaciated peak overlooking the community and above the Nutcicts’kwani (Necleetsconnay) River, which drains into the Bella Coola River where it meets the Pacific Ocean. The estuary is protected as a conservancy and is an important habitat that supports fish, birds and wildlife. 

As glaciers continue to recede, an impact of climate change that is rapidly accelerating, prospectors like Juggernaut are eyeing up mineral extraction opportunities that were previously inaccessible. This new gold rush, stoked by high prices on the global market, is similarly playing out in several parts of northern B.C. such as Gitanyow territory, where the nation is developing an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area to protect salmon populations from the threats of mineral exploration.

This wouldn’t be the first time a nation in B.C. has issued an eviction notice to a mining company. In March the Tahltan Nation evicted Doubleview Gold from its territory, over what the nation claimed was a refusal to respect Indigenous law. In July Doubleview and the Tahltan entered into negotiations after the company issued a formal apology.

Mack said members of the community noticed an influx of workers in the territory this summer and an increase in helicopter flights, as the company shuttled people and equipment into the mountains.

“The helicopters are going every single day, several times a day,” she said. “They obviously have resources but they have not reached out to the community — Indigenous or not — in any way and people were shocked when they found out how advanced it was.”

The Nuxalk Nation issued an eviction notice to Juggernaut Exploration on Monday. Speaking on behalf of the Nuxalkmc Stataltmc, the nation’s hereditary leadership, Nuskmata Jacinda Mack said “our lands have been illegally occupied by British Columbia and Canada in their various forms since the time of the gold rush.” Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

In a letter to the federal and provincial governments, the Stataltmc made it clear that mining is not permitted in Nuxalk territory.

“We have not and do not consent to any mining activities including exploration. We do not recognize tenures/permits issued by Canada or British Columbia.”

Nikki Skuce, director of Northern Confluence and co-founder of the BC Mining Law Reform network, told The Narwhal B.C. needs to modernize its mining laws.

“Our colonial mining laws need to be updated to respect Indigenous Rights,” Skuce wrote in an email. “The Mineral Tenure Act is completely inconsistent with [the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act] and must be reformed.”

“Our fight really isn’t with the company,” Mack said. “It’s with the province for issuing these permits. Anybody who has any type of moral fibre to them will understand that this is wrong, and the way that they’re going about it is wrong.” 

“The province makes all kinds of promises about Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation and then they turn around and they criminalize our land defenders,” she added, referring to the Wet’suwet’en struggle to protect its territory.

In Monday’s eviction order, Nuxalk leaders gave the company two days to pack up and leave the territory.

“We needed to act quickly to make sure that they know that this is unauthorized activity,” Mack said.

Juggernaut president Dan Stuart could not be reached for comment prior to publication. The company did not respond to an interview request.

B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation declined an interview request and did not provide a statement but confirmed it issued permits to the mining company.

Nuxalk laws are a ‘solution’ to inaction on B.C. mining reform 

This isn’t the first time the Nuxalk Nation voiced opposition to resource extraction on the territory. In early 2019, the hereditary leadership issued a letter of opposition to Goliath Resources, a Toronto-based company that was prospecting for gold in the area.

“You are in violation of Nuxalk Law and must stop all activity and return any samples you have taken,” the Stataltmc wrote in the letter.

Yet exploration companies continued to conduct work on the territory.

The nation also recently declared all commercial logging on Nuxalk territory a violation of human rights. In February, the Nuxalk Nation sent a statement to the federal government demanding that all commercial logging on Nuxalk territory be shut down.

“Through your authorization of the commercial extraction of our resources, you are willingly, knowingly and deliberately inflicting on our people conditions of life that will ultimately bring about our physical destruction.”

Mack said by upholding Nuxalk laws, they are creating solutions in the absence of government action.

“It’s about our sovereignty and it’s about picking up the work of our ancestors,” she said. “It’s about our human rights, it’s about enacting our own governance, which is still intact, and really offering up that as a solution to the problems that we face in our own nation.”

Bella Coola Indigenous Guardians
Indigenous guardians from B.C. and Nunavut out on the water in Bella Coola, B.C. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / The Narwhal

Mack was unequivocal when asked what’s at stake.

“Everything,” she said. “It’s the water, it’s the land, it’s the air, it’s the vibrations from the blasting and the drilling. It’s the sneaking around in the community that causes distrust and makes people question what’s going on and who’s involved. All of those things in a small community have really big impacts.”

She said the unity and support behind the Nuxalk hereditary leaders gives her hope.

“We need to be planning for the future of the water here, planning for different areas, and having some true reconciliation where we’re moving back into the villages that we come from,” she said. “I think raising awareness of that and inspiring action and building these relationships in our local community to strengthen what we have here would be excellent outcomes.”

She added she is inspired to see young Nuxalk step up to support the work of the Stataltmc.

“This isn’t a new story. This is just a new generation picking up the fight.”

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