First Nations series: Staking claims in the B.C. economy – by Gordon Hoekstra and Larry Pynn (Vancouver Sun – June 4, 2015)

Court victories have driven monumental shift in economic opportunities and goals

When the Tahltan agreed in a 2011 referendum to support the Northwest Transmission Line that now runs north from Terrace, they knew their lives would change forever.

The 344-kilometre power line would open up a vast, relatively untouched region of northwestern B.C. to hydroelectric projects and large-scale mines. A century before, in 1910, the Tahltan had declared they were the sovereign owners of a vast area three times the size of Vancouver Island.

And although they are vehement about protecting the region they call the “sacred headwaters” – at the confluence of the salmon-rich Skeena, Stikine and Nass rivers – they are now also keen to be active participants in the provincial economy.

“Government and industry understand that the First Nations people need to benefit when these things are built,” says Tahltan Central Council president Chad Day. “But with the Tahltan, it actually makes a lot of business sense to partner with us because we have the capacity, we have the work ethic, we have the experience.”

The Tahltan now share in the wealth created by economic development through revenuesharing and benefit agreements with the B.C. government, as well as companies such as Calgary-based AltaGas on three hydroelectric projects and Vancouver-based Imperial Metals on the Red Chris gold and copper mine.

Their experience exemplifies a larger story sweeping British Columbia.

It is often an untold story, one hidden behind the headlines about First Nations opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline in northern B.C., or Taseko’s New Prosperity gold and copper mine in the central Interior.

And it shows that despite a failed treaty-making process – only five treaties have been completed in the past three decades – First Nations are choosing to participate, and wield increasing influence, in the B.C. economy.

As recently as 20 years ago, there were only a handful of industry agreements being signed in the salmon-farming sector, or for minor mining and forestry projects. But a landslide of revenue-sharing and benefit deals with government, Crown corporations and companies have been reached in the past decade, in resource-rich areas of the province as well as in urban areas such as the Lower Mainland.

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