Lisa Glowacki and officials from the Ehattesaht First Nation find themselves in a state of limbo.
Glowacki, a lawyer for Vancouver-based Ratcliff LLP, an Indigenous and community law firm, is representing the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation in its ongoing legal battles concerning mineral rights claims on its land.
Ehattesaht reps are keen to bring an immediate stop to individuals and companies who are making claims on their land without consultation.
Provincial government officials are allowing claims to continue, in their opinions, rightfully so.
The battle has made it to the B.C. Supreme Court.
Besides Ehattesaht, the Gitxaala Nation is also part of the court case against the B.C. government.
Following 14 days of hearings in Vancouver, which concluded on May 19, the parties involved are awaiting a judge’s decisions.
Glowacki said both Ehattesaht and herself are awaiting word on two verdicts.
For starters, they are asking the court to put a stop into any new mineral rights claims on the First Nation.
“That could be a matter of weeks,” Glowacki said on when a possible decision will be made public.
And then they are seeking a pause on all claims that have been thus far.
“I don’t have any sense when the decisions will be made,” Glowacki said. “It’s more likely the full decision will be in the months category (before it is announced).”
What Glowacki does know is that she believes the current method of making mineral rights claims on any Indigenous land in the province is outdated.
“It is a fairly deregulated process which makes it easy for anybody to make a claim,” she said.
As things stand now, it is relatively easy for any individual or company to make a claim on Indigenous land through the online mineral tenure system that is run by the B.C. government.
Individuals only have to pay a $25 registration fee while companies are required to spend $500 to obtain a miner certificate. Afterwards, they can make a claim for a mere $1.75 per hectare of land.
That’s without any sort of consultation with the First Nation on which they are making their claim.
“To me the process is outdated and out of sync with all First Nation interests,” Glowacki said.
Glowacki added the three lawyers that are representing the province in the case obviously have different views than her.
She said provincial reps are defending their cases so there are no impacts resulting from individuals and companies making mineral rights claims on First Nation land.
Glowacki added provincial officials insist that they are engaging in discussions to bring forward legislative reforms.
But she is uncertain this is occurring.
“We haven’t seen anything that there is any change on the horizon,” she said.
The B.C. government launched its Mineral Titles Online system in January of 2005.
On the website it states one of the objectives of the system is “designed to meet industry's needs for secure tenure, and meet government's need to provide an efficient but cost-effective means of allocating mineral rights. New technology, such as e-commerce, Global Positioning System (GPS), and Geographic Information System (GIS), makes it easier for miners to find, acquire, explore, and develop properties.”
The court case was launched last June.
“Ongoing development, including mining, threatens and interferes with (Ehattesaht) priorities and our rights and title,” Simon John, the Ehattesaht First Nation’s chief councillor, wrote in an affidavit. “Privateer Gold Ltd. continues to register claims in our territory despite our opposition to their current mining activities and Crown knowledge of our position.”
Glowacki said companies and individuals have continued to register mineral rights claims on Ehattesaht since the court was launched.
“There are at least 100 active claims at any given time,” she said.
Glowacki also said the number of claims changes on a weekly basis.
The case, which has made it to the B.C. Supreme Court, is a significant one indeed.
First Nations are suing the province and its Mineral Tenures Act, arguing the process of claiming mineral rights violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which B.C. adopted in 2019.
That declaration from four years ago stipulated governments were required to obtain free, prior and informed consent on any actions that would impact Indigenous people and their territories.