First Nation Cries Foul Over Claim Staking

Prince George Free Press -- February 3, 2005

Minister of State for Mining Pat Bell says First Nations don’t need to be wary of a new online mineral staking system encroaching on their territory.

“Nothing has changed,” Bell, MLA for Prince George North, said last week. “Government is still responsible to consult with First Nations about their interests, and we take that seriously.”

In a release Jan. 25, Nak’azdli band chief Leonard Thomas said the Mineral Titles Online program has seen an unprecedented number of claims “overrun” traditional territory.

“One claim alone is reported to be 1,200 square kilometres in size, located near the Nation Lakes, just north of the band’s village near Fort St. James,” the releases reads.

“It’s pretty clear to me that the provincial government is neither respecting the spirit nor direction of the Supreme Court of Canada in its recent Haida and Taku rulings,” Thomas said. “The court stated that the honour of the Crown commits the government to consult with us whenever it has knowledge of an activity that could impact our Aboriginal title and rights.

“Essentially, the government has burdened our traditional territory with numerous third party claims without carrying through on its duty to consult and possibly accommodate us.”

But Bell said he sees the ruling - made late last year - differently.

“The courts said it is appropriate to consult when work is to be done on the ground,” he said. “Staking does not do that. (Miners) still need to complete a notice of work.”

He said the online system is arguable better for First Nations because under the old model, prospectors had to physically disturb the land they were staking.

Those who have staked claims must show they have done work on the land, or they will lose their claim, he said.

‘The (Supreme Court) cases make it clear the requirement (to consult) is relative to the volume of work being done,” he said. “If someone is chipping a few rocks, the obligation to consult is not as extensive - it might require a letter of information.”

Thomas said he thinks all B.C. First nations will want to respond to the online staking program.

“As it is, I think the program is legally suspect and it should not go unchallenged,” he said. “The government ought to know by now that they are creating an undue strain on our band’s time and resources by constantly forcing us to monitor our territory against their infringements. Thus takes valuable energy away from our other priorities.

Energy and Mines minister Richard Neufeld said last week in the first eight days of the year, more hectares were staked using the province’s "Mineral titles Online" service than in all of 2004. As of late January, 3,110 claim units had been staked.

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