Overlooking the town of Wells on a fall day with a mixed bag of weather, members of the Lhtako Dene Nation gathered with employees of Barkerville Gold Mines to bless the site of a potential underground gold mine.
It was more than two years ago, the Indigenous community near Quesnel signed a life-of-project agreement with Osisko Development Corporation — Barkerville Gold Mines to facilitate the development of the proposed Cariboo Gold Project.
On Saturday, Oct. 22, a celebration was held commemorating the agreement in Wells.
“That was a really special moment for me,” Chief Clifford Lebrun said, noting his mom and aunties were among those with him at the blessing of the site.
It had taken Lebrun’s community two decades to establish the foundation for a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with a mining company in the area that had been hoped for by previous chiefs.
At the site, Terri Boyd provided a prayer.
Although the smudging stick was difficult to burn due to its freshness, the energy remained positive.
“Today is really a day to honour our relationship with the Lhtako Dene Nation and all the elders that have come out, and it’s really important for us to acknowledge we’re on the unceded territory of the Lhtako Dene and it’s our privilege to be having this project in this territory,” said Osisko Development president Chris Lodder. “We wanted to have a signing ceremony that is a blessing for this site so that we have goodwill, good intentions and a good relationship going forward with this project.”
Osisko Development’s vice president of sustainable development, Chris Pharness, gifted Lebrun two framed photos of agreements being signed between the two parties. An initial protocol agreement and subsequent relationship agreement were signed in 2016, followed by the life-of-project agreement in 2020, putting in place a framework for the mining company and the nation to work together during all stages of the Cariboo Gold Project.
The celebration in Wells was also attended by mayor Ed Coleman and wrapped up with lunch at the Wells Community Hall by Evolution Camp Services.
More festivities continued Sunday, Oct. 23, near Quesnel at Lhtako Dene Hall with dancing, smudging and a barbecue, and gifts, including a piece of artwork and sage, exchanged between Pharness and Lebrun.
Lebrun noted several band members are employed with Barkerville Gold Mines.
“With the slowdown and the shutdowns, they’re not much up there anymore, but they’re looking forward to when they do fire up next year or the year following that they’ll go back,” Lebrun said, adding many are looking for work but do not have the skillset having been forced to drop out of school due to racism and bullying.
“This type of arrangement, they don’t care about the education —they just want to put the boys to work, and once they’re there, they prove themselves. Like everyone else, they want a chance to go out there and earn money for their families, be independent, and that self-esteem and pride just go up from that.”
According to Lebrun, Lhtako Dene Nation has similar relationships and agreements with other industries, such as forestry and tourism.
He said he wants to see their relationship continue to develop with Osisko Development for future generations.
“As long as the yellow rock [gold] is still out there, people will come looking for it. They’re going to think of new ways to get it, and we’ll try and work with them and help them be stewards of the land as we are and not take advantage of everything that has happened in the past,” Lebrun said, adding it is great to see Osisko contribute to the rehabilitation of old placer mines in the area that often get abandoned leaving a mess behind.
If approved, the Cariboo Gold Project could provide more than 400 jobs with a production capacity of 4,750 tonnes per day.
An environmental assessment decision by the BC Government is anticipated next year.
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