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

Little Brown Bat, Cori Lausen image
Puntledge River bats being studied

Scientists will be monitering bat activity in the Puntlesge River Watershed this… Continue reading

A 30x40 ft boat/car shop in the Little River area near Wilkinson Road was fully involved by the time firefighters arrived on scene. Photo by Comox Fire Rescue
Comox firefighters battle ‘showy’ shop fire Saturday night

Smoke could be seen throughout the Comox Valley

ROAM Media’s Ian Adams designed the label for the new honey ale. Image supplied
Church St., Ace combine on a true Comox Valley brew

The taphouse has Home Buoy on tap, and it’s also in cans

The finish line! Huband held a ‘Colour Run’ Friday to celebrate what’s been a different school year. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Comox Valley school lets its colours run

Huband Elementary wanted a way to bring kids together

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

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

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop ‘appalling’ live horse export, slaughter

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Most Read