Tsetsaut Ventures meets growing need for mining support services in northern BC
The Skii km Lax Ha First Nation may be small – it has only 30 members – but its traditional territory of nearly 20,000 square kilometres is large and overlaps with an area known as the Golden Triangle, a region near Hazleton that has world-class copper and gold deposits.
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In 2008, Chief Darlene Simpson and her husband George formed a contracting company, Tsetsaut Ventures Ltd., and began reaching out to the many exploration companies working in the traditional territory of the Skii km Lax Ha.
Their first contract was to provide a crew of a dozen people to manually crack cores. Tsetsaut Ventures quickly put together a team of energetic and motivated employees, drawing on their strong relationships with members of nearby First Nations communities.
“The project manager demanded they do 20 boxes a day, which is what the best core crackers on site were doing – our kids were doing up to 40 boxes a day within a week, setting a new standard in the camp,” said Chief Simpson.
Tsetsaut Ventures’ services have continued to grow alongside the development in the area.
“Their capacity evolved from 2008, when they provided core boxes, to 2013 when they were providing heavy equipment, doing construction and providing a lot of skilled workers to us,” said Robert Quartermain, president of Pretium Resources. Pretium has been advancing its Brucejack Project – a high-grade gold deposit – since 2008; the project received an Environmental Assessment Certificate in March 2015 to begin construction of an underground mine that will start producing gold in 2017.
The relationship between Tsetsaut Ventures and Pretium is built on trust. As Chief Simpson and her husband were growing the company, they reinvested every cent they made. Some purchases, however, required capital they did not have. In these cases, they asked Pretium to loan them the money, which they promised to pay back in two months. Pretium agreed to provide a loan of $300,000 on a handshake: the equipment was purchased and the loan repaid within the promised timeframe.
Tsetsaut Ventures is now one of the largest employers in the Hazleton area and has a workforce that is 60% Aboriginal. The company supplies trucks, excavators and earthmovers; manages work camps; builds core boxes; constructs mine buildings; and provides cooks, first aid attendants, geo-technicians and environmental monitors to exploration companies in the region.
“We continue to work with the Skii km Lax Ha on what the [environmental] impacts will be, but they certainly have an understanding of the benefits first hand to them and their community from the relationship we have with them,” said Quartermain. “Because the contracting company has provided so many of the necessary services required to develop the project, the Skii km Lax Ha Nation has been involved in the process every step of the way. It is one where the commercial interests of a First Nation complement those of the leadership as it relates to the ongoing development of this project.”
Chief Simpson appreciates the advantages of having mineral exploration and mining in their territory. “This is new for our community,” she said. “But I see the benefits. The individuals want an opportunity to work. Having jobs makes it a healthier community; you see more kids in sports, you see people buying vehicles and homes. My vision of the future is lots of contracting opportunities, jobs and a heathier community.”
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