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Canadian First Nation, with rare sway over mining, puts Newmont on notice

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By Jeff Lewis

TORONTO (Reuters) – A First Nation group in Canada‘s British Columbia province has put top gold miner Newmont Corp on notice that it is unlikely to gain buy-in for a gold and copper project, amid concern that mining will encroach on a local town.

The pushback by the Tahltan First Nation carries extra weight due to the group’s outsized influence in its territory, in contrast to similar groups who oppose mining elsewhere.

That authority may complicate efforts by U.S.-based Newmont to develop its early-stage Tatogga project, acquired in March in a $311 million buyout of GT Gold.

“It’s going to be a sensitive discussion with the nation,” Tahltan Central Government President Chad Day told Reuters.

Residents of nearby Iskut, about 1,600 kilometers north of Vancouver, worry the Newmont project will limit their ability to hunt caribou and bring more industry to an area that already includes Newcrest Mining’s Red Chris copper and gold mine.

The Tahltan nation has unique powers due to a combination of land rights, legal clout, financial heft and the ability to conduct their own economic and environmental assessments on projects in their territory.

Miners from Teck to Rio Tinto have signed consent agreements with the nation, whose business arm spans aviation to mining.

“There’s no doubt that they have a very powerful say in whether or not projects proceed in their territory,” said Merle Alexander, principal at with the indigenous law group at Miller Titerle and a hereditary chief of the Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation.

Tahltan territory covers about 11% of the Pacific province and sits on an estimated 50.6 million ounces of gold and 12.5 billion pounds of copper, according to data mapping provider DigiGeoData.

Like some other British Columbian groups, the Tahltan Nation never ceded territory to European settlers, in contrast to groups elsewhere who ended up relinquishing title to their lands through treaties.

Aboriginal claims to traditional territories in British Columbia were bolstered by a landmark 2014 Supreme Court ruling.

Newmont owns stakes in other undeveloped mineral deposits in Tahltan territory, which remain years from development.

“Clearly, if the community does not want the resource development, we’re not going to be there,” Newmont spokesman Nick Cotts said, adding the U.S. miner is committed to working with the Tahltan to address concerns.

NO ‘CULTURAL SACRIFICES’

The Tahltan nation has not shied away from using its power in the past.

In 2012, the nation opposed a coalbed methane project proposed by oil major Royal Dutch Shell, prompting the company to relinquish land tenures.

Three years later, Fortune Minerals sold coal leases in the territory, after the group threatened the miner with expulsion.

Such clout is in sharp contrast to the experience of indigenous groups elsewhere. Last year, Rio Tinto destroyed Aboriginal cave sites, with the affected indigenous population having little recourse to block it.

To be sure, the nation, who historically mined obsidian for weaponry and tools, support some mining provided it is on their terms.

Exploration spending last year in the territory topped C$200 million ($162.40 million) with production from three active mines valued at more than C$1.2 billion, according to the nation. Many Tahltan work in the industry and the nation has revenue-sharing agreements with the government for projects.

That economic heft makes it difficult for other indigenous groups to emulate Tahltan’s assertive approach to development, lawyers and First Nation leaders said.

“We don’t have to make huge cultural sacrifices to have a thriving economic environment in our territory,” Day said.

Last month the nation vowed “all actions necessary” to stop exploration by junior miner Doubleview Gold Corp on ancestral lands.

The dispute reflects long-standing grievances with the provincial government which grants mineral claims over the internet.

Legal experts said that approach is inconsistent with principles around getting First Nations consent. A similar approach in Yukon was found to breach the government’s legal duty to consult indigenous groups.

British Columbia consults at a later stage of mine development, a spokesman for the provincial mines minister said.

Doubleview says it has valid permits but takes local concerns seriously. A study it commissioned found exploration would occur in an area of “low archaeological potential.”

Day said the Tahltan are crafting a land-use plan to prohibit exploration in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas, giving the nation greater control over who can stake mineral claims and where.

“All of those resources belong to Tahltan,” said elder Allen Edzerza, who leads efforts by the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council advocacy group to reform the province’s mining laws.

“It’s not (the province’s) right to give those away.”

 

 

(Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Calgary Stampede to proceed with limited events

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The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada‘s biggest and booziest party, will go ahead this year after being pulled in 2020 due to the pandemic, though it will not look and feel the same, an event organizer told CBC Radio.

“It won’t be your typical Stampede … it’s not the experience that you had in years past,” Kristina Barnes, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, told a CBC Radio programme on Friday.

She said organizers were still deciding whether to include rodeo or the grandstand show in this year’s version.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“The Safest and Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what we’re going to call it this year,” Barnes said, adding the organizers are working directly with Alberta Health to ensure Stampede experiences stay “within the guidelines” that may be in effect in July.

The event is scheduled to take place between July 9-18, according to the Calgary Stampede website.

Last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the Calgary Stampede can probably go ahead this year as Alberta’s coronavirus vaccination campaign accelerates.

Barnes and the office of the Alberta premier were not available for immediate comment.

The cancellation of the event last year was a crushing disappointment for Canada‘s oil capital.

The news comes as Alberta has been dealing with a punishing third wave of the pandemic, with the province having among the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 cases in the country. Data released on Friday showed the province had 1,433 new cases, compared with the seven-day average of 1,644.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chris Reese)

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U.S. trade chief pressured to lift duties on Canadian lumber

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 As U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai prepares to meet her Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Monday to review progress in the new North American trade agreement, she is under pressure from home builders and lawmakers to cut U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Shortages of softwood lumber amid soaring U.S. housing demand and mill production curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused prices to triple in the past year, adding $36,000 to the average cost of a new single-family home, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Republican lawmakers have taken up the builders’ cause, asking Tai during hearings in Congress last week to eliminate the 9% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Senator John Thune told Tai that high lumber costs were “having a tremendous impact on the ground” in his home state of South Dakota and putting homes out of reach for some working families.

The Trump administration initially imposed 20% duties in 2018 after the collapse of talks on a new quota arrangement, but reduced the level in December 2020.

“The Biden administration must address these unprecedented lumber and steel costs and broader supply-chain woes or risk undermining the economic recovery,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Without tariff relief and other measures, vital construction projects will fall behind schedule or be canceled.”

On Friday, White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse said the Biden administration was weighing concerns about commodity shortages and inflation as it reviews trade policy.

The tariffs are allowed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which permits duties to combat price dumping and unfair subsidies.

The U.S. Commerce Department has ruled that lumber from most Canadian provinces is unfairly subsidized because it is largely grown on public lands with cheap harvesting fees set by Ottawa. U.S. timber is mainly harvested from privately-owned land.

Tai said she would bring up the lumber issue with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng at the first meeting of the USMCA Free Trade Council, a minister-level body that oversees the trade deal.

WILLING PARTNER

But Tai told U.S. senators that despite higher prices, the fundamental dispute remains and there have been no talks on a new lumber quota arrangement.

“In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging,” Tai said.

Youmy Han, a spokeswoman for Canada‘s trade ministry, said the U.S. duties were “unjustified,” and that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Our government believes a negotiated agreement is possible and in the best interests of both countries,” Han said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

But builders are growing frustrated with a lack of high-level engagement with high-level Biden administration officials on the issue as they watch lumber prices rise.

“They are clearly still gathering facts, which is even more frustrating given that this issue has been going on since before the election, before the inaugural,” said James Tobin, a vice president and top lobbyist at the NAHB.

 

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Centerra to fight Kyrgyzstan takeover of its gold mine

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Centerra Gold said on Sunday it has initiated binding arbitration against Kyrgyzstan government, after the parliament passed a law allowing the state to temporarily take over the country’s biggest industrial enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine operated by Centerra.

Recently, a Kyrgyzstan court also imposed $3.1 billion fine on Kumtor Gold Company (KGC), which operates the gold mine, after ruling that the firm had violated environmental laws.

The gold miner said that it intends to hold the government accountable in the arbitration for “any and all losses and damage” due to its recent actions against KGC and the Kumtor mine if no resolution is reached.

“The Government’s actions have left Centerra no choice but to exercise our legal rights, through the pursuit of arbitration and otherwise, to protect the interests of KGC, Centerra and our shareholders,” Centerra’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Perry said in a press release.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of disputes with Centerra Gold over how to share profits from the former Soviet republic’s biggest industrial enterprise.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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