Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT

Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Demand for jade has sparked both a reality TV series set in the remote northwestern corner of British Columbia and opposition from an Indigenous nation over its lack of consentto jade mining in its territory.

The Tahltan Nation has strong ties to the mining and mineral exploration sector, but the extraction of nephrite jade is “a very problematic industry for us,” said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government.

B.C.’s consultation with the nation over jade mining permit applications has been “minimal,” Day said in an interview, and in recent years the nation has expressed opposition to new permits and the industry overall.

Abandoned machinery, shipping containers and jade boulders, cut open and discarded because they’re too low in quality, are scattered across areas where caribou roam and Tahltan people hunt and go snowmobiling, he said.

Day said he’s also concerned that unlike major mines, smaller-scale jade extraction doesn’t always require archeological assessment before work starts.

Any discoveries are important evidence of Tahltan rights and title to the nation’s territory that comprises 11 per cent of the province, he said.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources and to stop work in the event of a potential finding.

Jade is mined from mountainsides or through placer mining, a smaller-scale excavation ranging from old-style gold panning to digging in and around riverbeds for deposits of minerals washed away over time.

The Mines Ministry said it has been working with the industry and Indigenous nations to develop recommendations for higher operational and reclamation standards for the sector.

The B.C. government paused decisions on new placer jade permits in Tahltan territory for two years as it works to “establish a long-term economic, reconciliation, wildlife and land-use partnership” with the nation, Mines Minister Bruce Ralston said in a recent statement.

Ten jade mining permits remain active in Tahltan territory, the ministry said, while 34 are inactive after operating between 2015 and 2019. Another seven permits are not being used because the operators’ certificates are suspended, it said.

The ministry said it takes issues of non-compliance seriously and uses enforcement tools, such as monetary penalties, as a deterrent.

There is no index for the price of jade, which refers to two different stones: nephrite and jadeite. The finest jadeite can be valued at a higher price than the same weight in gold, while the jade mined in B.C. is mainly nephrite. Its value is determined by different factors including its colour and clarity.

While the Tahltan have signed engagement agreements with many mineral exploration companies, along with impact benefit agreements for three major mines, there are no such agreements with jade operators, said Day.

“Is there any revenue sharing? Are there jobs? Are there contracts? Is there equity ownership? Where are the benefits?” he asked. “There’s nothing.”

READ MORE: B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

Day and other Tahltan leadersvisited jade and placer mining operations by helicopter in 2019 to deliver letters expressing their lack of consent.

Among those who received a letter were the Bunces, a mining family featured on the reality TV show “Jade Fever.” The seventh season is set to launch Monday on Discovery Canada, which is owned by Bell Media.

Concerns over the jade industry have “been on the radar of more and more Tahltan people because of Jade Fever,” Day said.

The show follows the Bunces’ mining operation as they search for “million-dollar boulders of jade,” according to promotional materials posted online.

It’s a small-scale, family-run operation with an exploration permit to work on one claim, which is not a placer claim, Claudia Bunce said in an email.

The permit limits their land disturbance to 2.5 hectares over five years and it required a financial surety to ensure remediation of the land, she said.

Every permit under the Mines Act includes a bond that’s held until reclamation is finished, or the money may be seized, the Mines Ministry said.

The B.C. government has improved environmental regulations for jade mining in recent years, said Bunce, adding she fully supports those measures and any additional recommendations the Tahltan have.

Their target is to extract about 50 tonnes of jade each year, said Bunce, enough to fashion jewelry and other products sold at the family’s store in Jade City, a tiny community between Dease Lake and the Yukon boundary. Revenue from the store funds their next mining season, she said.

Bunce said she’s had to fight for a voice in a male-dominated industry and she respects others’ right to do the same, including the Tahltan.

After receiving the letter from Tahltan leaders, Bunce said she immediately called the Mines Ministry to confirm their jade operation was lawful.

“I was told by (the ministry) that my permit goes through a consultation process before being approved, with three Indigenous groups in the area, the Tahltan, the Tse’Khene, and Kaska Nation,” she said.

Tahltan consent is not required, but that’s set to change as the B.C. government implements the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which it adopted through legislation in late 2019.

The declaration requires governments to obtain free, prior and informed consent before taking actions that affect Indigenous Peoples and territories.

Bunce said it’s up to the B.C. government, not individual mining operations, to implement the UN declaration and she hopes the Tahltan can reach an agreement with the province that addresses their concerns.

“I will abide by whatever agreement they make,” she added.

Jade Fever’s producers at Vancouver-based Omnifilm Entertainment were aware of the Tahltan letter delivered to the Bunces, they said in a statement.

At the time, they contacted the province and confirmed the Bunces have a work permit that provided for Indigenous consultation, they said.

“As a documentary series, we are on site to follow the real-life story of a family run jade operation. We do not participate in the mining or intervene in the business side of their operation as that is handled by the family.”

A statement from a Bell Media spokesperson said the company had not been aware of the concerns over jade mining raised by the Tahltan Nation.

“We take this matter seriously and are investigating further,” it said.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Indigenousmining

Just Posted

A Category 3 fire ban will go into effect across the entire Cariboo Fire Centre beginning noon on Monday, June 21. (Pixaby photo)
Category 3 fire ban extends across entire Cariboo Fire Centre June 21

Campfires are still permitted, but no larger than half a metre high by half a metre wide

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation planning ground analysis of land near former residential school

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Camper van explosion burns Vancouver Island gas station to the ground

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. The website for a Broadway theatre showing "Springsteen on Broadway" said it would only allow guests "fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine" — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
No Springsteen for you: AstraZeneca not good enough to qualify for Broadway ticket

Victoria area mayor among those unable to attend New York entertainment due to COVID-19 restriction

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ B.C. plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

Lake Country firefighters made good use of pet respirators they keep on board June 17, 2021. (District of Lake Country)
PHOTOS: 11 dogs rescued, home destroyed in large blaze in Okanagan

Home deemed a total loss, cause remains unknown but crews thankful for pet respirators

Most Read