A First Nations advocate has staked a mining exploration claim on an area in Cranbrook where the private home of B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett sits.

Bev Sellars, the former chief of the Xat'sull First Nation at Soda Creek, says she made the move this week to make a point of how easy it is to make claims and how these claims can lead to mines causing environmental destruction.

"It amazed me how ridiculously easy it was to do it," said Sellars, who purchased a placer mineral claim which gives the holder the right to explore the claimed area for certain materials.

Xatsull Chief Bev Sellars

Bev Sellars is the former chief of the Xat'sull First Nation

She said it took about an hour to drive to an office to obtain a certificate to be a free miner, which cost $25, and then she went on the provincial government website and in a matter of minutes staked the claim for $104.89.

"I didn't have to contact the people of the private property ...  I didn't have to prove that I had any awareness about the environment or the impacts of the industry. I didn't have to know about the right of the local First Nations people."

Sellars named the claim FNWARM, the acronym for the group First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, which she chairs.

Placer mining

The holder of a placer mineral claim is entitled to explore the claim for "ore of metal and every natural substance that can be mined and that is either loose, or found in fragmentary or broken rock that is not talus rock and occurs in loose earth, gravel and sand."

Mines Minister Bill Bennett was not available for an interview Wednesday.

Sellars

Sellars claim can be seen here as a square box with a yellow outline. The Energy and Mines Ministry said it is the first claim within the vicinity of Cranbrook. (Ministry of Energy and Mines website screenshot)

Ministry spokesperson David Haslam said in an email that a placer mineral claim is "only for the purpose of conducting exploration activity" and is subject to a number of legal conditions and restrictions.

"These restrictions make it extremely unlikely that any of the surface of this placer claim would actually be available for the recorded holder to conduct any form of exploration activity," Haslam said.

He also said the Mineral Tenure Act allows the ministry to cancel claims that are considered "nuisance staking," which usually means someone registering a claim for purposes other than an activity related to mining.

Claim meant to raise awareness

Sellars said she is not sure yet if she will actually explore her claim but the move was meant to raise awareness of placer mines.

"We see the destruction of mines in general, but placer mining is a real concern for us," she said.

She said the Ministry of Energy and Mines checks up on the large mining operations but "there isn't that same overall looking at what the placer mining people are doing."

"There's increased sediment loads. There's insufficient reclamation, possible mercury contamination … broad cumulative impacts the general public are not aware of. We see the destruction in our territories, so we decided to do something about it"

The Xat'sull First Nation was one of the communities affected by the breach of the tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine in 2014.

Haslam said the province is committed to collaborating with First Nations and works closely with the First Nations Energy and Mining Council so that First Nations' perspectives on mining can be better understood.