However, the property known as Ike is also in the last place that the Tsilhqot’in communities want a mine.
The location is above the watersheds of the Taseko and Chilcotin rivers and not that distant from Fish Lake (known to the Tsilhqot’in as Teztan Biny), where the First Nation fought a decades-long battle against the Prosperity and then New Prosperity mine proposals of Taseko Mines Ltd.
“This Ike (exploration), we’re not going to agree to,” said Chief Roger William of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, part of the Tsilhqot’in National Government.
“Fish Lake, Teztan Biny, was a sensitive area. This is as sensitive, even more because it’s more above the Taseko Lakes and all our fish (and) salmon runs.”
The mineral discovery lies in an area the Tsilhqot’in has declared a tribal park that they call Dasiqox, William said, which makes it a “no-go zone” for exploration. He said they’ve opposed permits that the province has granted for exploration work this year and the two previous exploration seasons.
At the start of August, Amarc announced a $3-million program, in partnership with Thomson Creek Metals, to continue drilling and conduct geochemical and geophysical surveys.
Amarc president Diane Nicolson declined to be interviewed, but in an emailed statement described Ike as “an early stage mineral prospect,” where the company is using “a range of progressive practices to ensure that all associated impacts are minor, localized and temporary.”
Amarc executive chairman, Bob Dickinson, however, waxed enthusiastically about the Ike property’s long-term potential in a 2015 interview with The Northern Miner, referring to Ike as “not just one deposit, (but) a whole entire district that’s going to come to the fore, and it doesn’t get any better.”
Initial drilling on Ike site in 2014 was promising enough for Amarc to step up exploration with airborne magnetic surveys, which led to the staking of more mineral claims within 56 kilometres of Ike.
In her email, Nicolson said Amarc has “taken steps to reach out and work with First Nations and local stakeholders,” which has included offers of “training, jobs, capacity funding and contract opportunities.” She deferred further questions about accommodating First Nations interests to the province.
Amarc is affiliated with Hunter Dickinson Inc., a Vancouver exploration and mine-development firm that has connections to Taseko Mines, whose New Prosperity project twice rejected in federal environmental reviews.
Dickinson is a director of Taseko. Taseko’s chairman, Ronald Thiessen, is a director of Amarc.
Chief William said Amarc officials have met with his communities to explain the project and have offered them an agreement, which they’ve rejected.
What comes next could be a test of a Nenqay Deni Accord that the province struck with the Tsilhqot’in earlier this year, which is a five-year framework agreement aimed at reconciling the relationships between government and the First Nations.
“The shared goal is to support the economic development of the Tsilhqot’in communities,” David Haslam, a spokesman for the B.C. Mines Ministry, said in an emailed response to questions.
Haslam said the ministry consulted First Nations in conjunction with the exploration permits that have been granted to Amarc.
And the province is committed to implementing the accord, “but (we) are concerned by the unilateral declaration of a ‘no-go zone’ by the Tsilhqot’in.”
Haslam said the Tsilhqot’in’s tribal park lies outside the boundaries of the area where the Xeni Gwet’in were granted title to the land in a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We have asked the Tsilhqot’in to bring matters of concern to the negotiating table where they belong,” Haslam wrote.
“We want to move forward in partnership to reach agreements regarding shared decision making and benefit sharing within the Tsilhqot’in territory that will be beneficial to all parties,” Haslam said.
William said he expects that their opposition to exploration on Ike will be a priority issue to be dealt with under the accord.
There are areas where the Tsilhqot’in would welcome mineral exploration that are north and east of the Ike and New Prosperity claims, William said, and the First Nations would prefer to direct attention in that direction.
“Here’s an opportunity for not only the government but companies to actually forge a relationship that’s going to be working with the Tsilhqot’in Nation and communities,” William said.
In the meantime, William said, Amarc is pursuing exploration where they know that “there’s going to be resistance from the First Nation.”
“That’s the gamble they’re going to have to take.”