Near the northern tip of Vancouver Island, the Quatsino First Nation is home to an area rich in natural beauty, with inlets, wildlife and a reliance on the land that Indigenous families have carved a way of life from for generations.
But there is a gaping hole there too, that haunts people to this day.
“It killed the beach in front of our village,” said Quatsino First Nation Chief Tom Nelson.
The Island Copper Mine cut so deep into the land in Quatsino First Nation territory, that the open pit mine became the lowest man-made place in the world when it operated there between 1971 and 1995.
The mine removed one billion tonnes of ore, before its closure and flooding forever capped its usefulness, without paying any royalties to the First Nation, or ever consulting them on the project that left the Quatsino people’s shorelines that were once rich in sea urchins, ling cod and abalone, forever changed by the dumping of stadiums full of waste rock from the mines.
“It’s just like a bomb went off and killed everything,” said Chief Nelson.
“After the mine opened up that all went. There was nothing left for me to go and harvest in our favourite spots,” he said.
Representatives from BHP, the U.S.-based company that acquired the mine in 1984, were in Quatsino Tuesday, trying to right their old but lasting wrongs. Issuing a historic apology to the Chief and council, and listening to what needs to be done to compensate the community for their losses.
“The standards that we have today, definitely we fell short in the previous years. Now we need to engage through every stage of the project,” said Kate Sommerville, the GM of BHP’s Closed Mines for Canada and the United States.
“There was a lot of damage done so I am glad that BHP is here at the table now that we can negotiate some kind of deal with them to compensate,” said Nelson.
The Island Copper Mine is still actively monitored for any environmental impacts. No dollar figure has yet been established for compensation.