The Wet’suwet’en First Nation (WFN) have set up a tolling station on the Felix George Indian Reserve south of Houston. They are tracking industrial traffic volumes to the Huckleberry Mine Ltd. (HML) project, with the intention of invoicing HML for industrial traffic.
The road to the Huckleberry mine passes through WFN traditional territories, as well as through their reserve. According to Chief Karen Ogen, HML has violated its agreement with the Wet’suwet’en.
“HML has breached a 1997 agreement that it had with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, and HML is not negotiating in good faith with WFN,” she said.
“They haven’t been giving us our annual payments for quite a few years,” Ogen explained. “We’ve negotiated in good faith but they’re not hearing us. They’re not listening to us.”
The Huckleberry Mine, located 123 kms southwest of Houston, B.C., had recently gained provincial approval for an expansion of its mining activities.
For their part, HML believes that they have appropriately handled the breach of payment identified by Cheif Ogen.
Byng Giraud, Executive Advisor with HML, responded that although there was a lapse in payment, it was HML itself that caught the error.
“Through HML’s own investigation we discovered the error and reported it to the WFN,” said Giraud. “I must emphasize we discovered the error and made the WFN aware.”
“Shortly thereafter HML issued cheques for arrears to the Government of Canada and the WFN,” he said.
The arrears would have been payable to both the federal government and WFN. $6,000 is payed annually to the WFN and $2,000 is paid to the federal government. A one time payment of $215,000 was paid to the band (Bromine Lake Band at the time) which, combined with the $8,000 in annual payments, was to secure right of way through WFN territories until 2046.
According to Giraud, payments stopped in 2007 in the midst of organizational changes at HML, WFN, and the federal government.
Since discovering the missed payments, HML has covered the amount owing, plus interest.
“HML paid both the Government of Canada and the WFN the arrears payments with 15 per cent compounded interest,” said Giraud. “This was done in September.”
For their part, the WFN acknowledges that payment has been received, but they maintain that the deal worked out previously no longer reflects the dollar value being extracted from the mining project.
“They sent payments but we want to renegotiate,” explained Cheif Ogen. “They figured that by sending a payment it was all going to go away, but there are other outstanding issues.”
“If you take $8,000 [the combined payment] and divide that into 365 days, that’s $21.92 per day for the right of way,” Ogen said. “We know that the price of copper has gone up. They’re making a lot of money. Does $8,000 a year sound sufficient to you?”
“We’re telling them that they need to sit down and talk with us because they need to renegotiate that amount,” she said.
For HML, the dispute boils down to the validity of a right-of-way permit.
“This is a dispute as to the validity of a permit,” said Giraud. “The proper way of addressing this dispute is through some form of arbitration, not through direct action, blockades or confrontation.”