Yukon First Nation and mining company create 'template' for industry

Strategic Metals and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations have signed a novel agreement on mineral exploration projects.

Strategic Metals and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations have signed a novel agreement on exploration

A crew out on a heritage survey at the Hopper exploration project on the Aishihik Lake road in southwest Yukon. (Strategic Metals)

A mineral exploration agreement signed between Yukon's Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Vancouver-based Strategic Metals is being touted as a model for the industry.

"There's a template now that other First Nations and other mining companies can now look at, and decide how they want to tweak it or whatever," said Champagne and Aishihik Chief Steve Smith.

He said the agreement brings stability and clarity to both First Nations and miners.

"Mining companies, they just want to know what the ball field looks like, and they build their team based on what game they're playing," Smith said.

Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations says the agreement with Strategic Metals could serve as a template for other First Nations. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Strategic Metals has committed to consulting with the First Nations on exploration projects in their traditional territories. The company will also discuss job and business opportunities.

The agreement is expected to build local support for mineral exploration and development.

"You want to have as little impact as you can, until you get to a point where you realize, okay, we've got a significant deposit here," said Richard Drechsler, Strategic's vice-president for communications.

He said companies benefit from local knowledge when they hire locally. It's also a plus for communities.

"Not only is that a benefit to them economically, if you're doing that, you can get probably more of a social licence if they see the type of work that's going on, or they're the ones out doing the work," Drechsler said.

"You can have a lot more comfort in terms of what type of impact you're having on the local wildlife, or whatever other concerns there may be in the area," said Drechsler.

Exploration agreements uncommon

Drechsler said while benefit agreements between First Nations and mining companies are not unusual, agreements for exploration projects are less common.

Richard Drechsler of Strategic Metals says it's natural for First Nations to want to know what is happening in their areas. (Strategic Metals)

Drechsler said the company would like to negotiate similar agreements with other First Nations. 

Chief Smith said the company has agreed to pay the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations a one-time payment of $100,000 and then another two per cent of whatever the company spends on any given project.

While the agreement covers the traditional territory of the First Nations, said Smith, the lands owned by the First Nations through their land claims agreement are excluded.

He said court decisions have been trending toward providing First Nations more say over what happens within their traditional territory. Smith said Strategic Metals is ahead of the curve in recognizing that.

"Many times, we have mining companies who stake claims and they carry out their activities without any real discussion with the Nation. And I have to credit Strategic Metals with having a bit of a forward vision as well. You know, in wanting to do this exploration agreement," said Smith.

Drechsler said it's reasonable for First Nations to want to know what's happening around them.

"Basically, the idea is you're working in their backyard. So the best thing to do is have as much community involvement as possible, from day one," he said.

About the Author

Dave Croft

Reporter, CBC North

Dave Croft is a reporter in the CBC Yukon newsroom in Whitehorse. He has been been covering Yukon stories since 1990.

with files from Leonard Linklater