News last week of the BC Government purchasing permits held by mining companies Fortune Minerals & POSCO Canada in Tl’Abona (the Sacred Headwaters), Tahltan Territory is a major victory for land defenders and the Klabona Keepers. But to be clear, while we celebrate the resistance of the community members and their allies the response by the provincial government is nothing to celebrate.
The actions on the ground were so inspiring considering what was accomplished by a relatively small group of people in a very remote region. Militant direct action led to the company realising that there was little certainty for their investment in the region. The actions included blockading the work site and eventual occupation of the drill site and workers camp. Coupled with the action was a clear message about jurisdiction, about the unceded territories and that the company ultimately needed consent of the indigenous people, not a permit from the government.
Not having personal involvement it is better to have the film Northern Grease produced by Beyond Boarding tell the story of this struggle that just sent the company packing:
Fortune Minerals and POSCO are not leaving empty handed, unfortunately. The BC Government has purchased the mining permits from the companies for $18.3 million while allowing them the option to buy the permits again before a 10 year deadline. There are important reasons to denounce this move by the government.
Through this transaction the province is not helping protect the territories. Uncertainty for investment is the primary concern behind it. Mining companies, if not generously compensated for projects derailed by community opposition, would be discouraged to continue investing. The Province, already struggling to sign treaties for the vast majority of the land base it claims Crown jurisdiction over, faces the possibility of investments in resource extraction drying up if the ultimate authority on the majority of the territories is understood to be that of indigenous people.
Corporate and state initiatives to protect against investment uncertainty is not unfamiliar for anyone that has been following international trade negotiations. The negotiations include investor state arbitration mechanisms allowing corporations to sue governments if their ability to profit is denied due to policies or decisions of local communities. The public tax revenue of countries acts as insurance against any risk investment of multinational corporations. The “risks” could be public health regulations, protections for ecosystems or decisions in the public interest. That communities may withhold consent and create uncertainty to protect their own interest seems obvious. Acting at the same time as insurance against this uncertainty seems ridiculous.
This financial risk in the international marketplace is not unlike the that on indigenous territories. Rights of corporations have not been established in order to drive investment and that is why the province is spending billions on the treaty process. Investment security is created by a legal regime that supports the rights of corporations to profit and do business while undermining the responsibilities that communities hold to protect themselves and their lands. The BC Government tells investors that such legal regimes exist and when they are challenged offers compensation. The international agreements will only increase the bombardment of industrial capital upon communities - particularly in the mining sector in BC - as multinational corporations get some of the same security that colonial law & compensation is providing corporations in Canada.
It would seem vital then for the general public to question the use of public tax revenue to bailout corporations seeking to invest without having the consent of indigenous communities in BC. Especially when we are told that austerity will be cutting public spending on programs for the more socially and economically vulnerable. Unresolved indigenous title within BC is well understood. Even if a corporation hypothetically is unaware the BC government, the one issuing permits, we know is not. What is this then if not another mechanism of privatizing public funds while the indigenous lands face gold rush style plundering by industry?
These concerns and parallels between the international trade regime and colonial governance need to be more visible. Without the insurance by people passively allowing state distribution of public funds to industry the gold rush of investment in extraction may slow and the companies may feel more pressure to approach indigenous communities directly and for their consent.
Fortune Minerals & POSCO are gone but the investments keep coming bypassing the Tahltan communities. In addition to supporting the next blockade it seems that challenging the imposition of these regimes providing investment security - colonial and international - would be a very direct act of solidarity and something to celebrate.