As 70 witnesses looked on, the Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation and Graymont Western Canada Ltd. signed new leases that will permit Graymont to continue its limestone mining and processing operation on Ts'kw'aylaxw reserves until 2045.
The new deal was signed at a special ceremony held in the Lillooet REC Centre gym on Friday, Apr. 15.
The Graymont operation is located in Marble Canyon on Highway 88 between Lillooet and Cache Creek. The company has operated its limestone quarry and processing plant on Ts'kw'aylaxw lands since 1974 and it is the only mining operation on an Indian reserve in Canada.
Both parties said the new leases have another distinction they are the first arms-length commercial leases granted in British Columbia under the First Nations Land Management Act, which confers land management powers on those First Nations that opt out of the land management provisions of the Indian Act. Tskwaylaxw made the transition to the First Nations Land Management Act in April of last year, becoming only the fifth First Nation in B.C., and the 14th in Canada, to assume responsibility under the act for land management on its reserves.
This is a watershed event in our history, Community Chief Dennis Ned said at the signing ceremony. We have negotiated and settled these leases on our own, without the Department of Indian Affairs. We have achieved terms that will be better for us from a financial perspective and that will ensure protection of the environment and continued employment for many Ts'kw'aylaxw people.
According to a news release, more than 50 per cent of the eligible Ts'kw'aylaxw members attended a vote on Apr. 3, 2005 to ratify the new leases, which were approved by an overwhelming majority.
Negotiations for the new leases began more than three years ago, but broke down early in the process. The parties returned to the table just over a year ago and have been negotiating regularly since then.
Political Chief Robert Shintah said when the talks began, it was us and them.
We had to talk about us, not us and them, he told those assembled for the signing ceremony. That's why we were able to negotiate the way we did.
Despite the arduous negotiating process, Garry Kehler, vice-president and general counsel for Graymont, said a stronger relationship now exists between Graymont and the Ts'kw'aylaxw and a different relationship.
He led the negotiations for Graymont.
Graymont has always been a significant contributor to the Ts'kw'aylaxw community, and under the new leases and related agreements it will increase its assistance to the Ts'kw'aylaxw people in building their capacity for the future through education and training.
During the ceremony, Ts'kw'aylaxw leaders acknowledged the leaders who negotiated the original lease Chief Garry Harry, Councillor Georgina Harry and Councillor Eugene Edwards. All three attended last Friday's ceremony.
Then-Fountain Indian Band Chief Victor Adolph and then-Bridge River Indian Band Chief Gordon James also played instrumental roles in the 1974 leasing process, as leaders of the Stl'atl'imx Tribal Council.
Twenty-seven of the 35 full-time employees working at the site are aboriginal.
Stuart White, chief executive officer of Graymont, said his company was proud of its relationship with Ts'kw'aylaxw.
In signing the new leases we are reaffirming our commitment to maintaining a close and successful working relationship with Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation.
Graymont quarried approximately 190,000 tonnes of limestone from the site last year, which it converted to lime at the plant and sold in western Canada and Alaska, primarily for use in processing operations at mines, pulp mills and refineries. Lime is described as the great neutralizer because it reduces the impacts of these operations on the environment.
Wolfe concluded, The new leases will make it possible for Graymont to continue to invest in its quarry and plant operations. Graymont is planning to invest in improvements at the site that will make our operation more modern and efficient, and minimize the impact the operation has on the surrounding community and the environment.
Bridge River Lillooet News April 20th 2005.USLCES Home page.