Can B.C. stake its claim as a leader in responsible mineral extraction?

B.C. Business

Ryan Stuart

As their industry faces scrutiny from customers, investors and the public, mining companies are joining a growing sustainability movement

The Deer Horn mining project was unusual from the start. When an area in the Coast Mountains south of Smithers first intrigued him back in 2010, Tony Fogarassy didn’t send in a field geologist on a clandestine rock-bashing mission. The chair of First Tellurium Corp., the project’s parent company, shrugged off paranoid worries that someone might scoop the claim. Approaching the leadership of the four First Nations with history in the area, he asked for consent to work on their land. 

Fogarassy asked again before the company applied for a tenure to develop the exploration project. And again when First Tellurium discovered promising signs of gold, silver and tellurium, a rare metal that’s important for harnessing solar energy. He kept asking for consent at every step of the project. 

“Mining has a bad reputation,” Fogarassy says. “There are too many crappy mines out there that are perpetual legacy costs. We wanted to do it the right way, from the beginning.”

Depending on where in the world the mine is located, that could mean preventing human rights abuses, ensuring workers’ rights, protecting the environment or setting aside money for reclamation. In B.C., it starts with free, prior and informed consent, Fogarassy says. Long before Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2016 and B.C. enacted it into law last year, he recognized that transparency with First Nations was the future of mining in the province.

“First Nations are often the last to know about a tenure application on their land,” Fogarassy says. “When your relationship starts out like that, you’ve automatically ticked them off. You know they’re going to fight it. By developing a relationship before you stake, you develop trust.”

But more than greasing the wheels, it’s reality. “As a lawyer, I can say this is their land,” Fogarassy explains. “It’s respectful, and it’s the only way to do business in B.C.” 

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