Membertou Chief Terry Paul was barely able to contain his glee Tuesday after the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs signed its first agreement on mining royalties with a private company.
Under the deal, Kameron Coal Management, which is planning to open a coal mine in Donkin later this year, will pay the assembly a royalty per tonne on resources extracted, once mining begins.
"I'm very, very, very pleased," Paul said in a telephone interview after the signing was announced.
"It's historic for us. It's the very first time that we've had a private company recognize that we do have a say in the land and the resources here in Nova Scotia."
Ed Griffith, vice-president of human resources with Kameron Coal, signed the agreement on behalf of the company but was unavailable for an interview.
The financial terms of the deal are confidential, said Paul, but in general, the coal company has agreed to pay a royalty to the assembly for the benefit of Mi'kmaq across the province.
The mining impact benefits agreement also sets out the need for co-operation between the company and aboriginal people in Nova Scotia, and calls for employment equity, a protocol to be established for dealing with treaty rights, creation of an aboriginal advisory committee, and the need for a protocol to cover Mi'kmaq archeological or historical resources found during the mine's development or operation.
Paul, co-chairman of the assembly with Chief Sidney Peters of Glooscap First Nation, said no Mi'kmaq artifacts have been found at the Donkin mine property to date, but that doesn't mean there aren't any there.
"We've been here for thousands of years," Paul said.
"We have place names for every cove and every harbour right around the province, so we must have been there.
"I'm sure (artifacts) are there. We occupied every nook and cranny around the province throughout its history, so I believe there's evidence of our presence in pretty well all the area of Nova Scotia."
At a recent Port Days event in Sydney, Griffith said Kameron Coal expects to begin mining later this year, after the company finishes dewatering the slopes and building infrastructure at the mine site.
The Donkin mine was first built in the 1980s by the federal government, which dug two slopes under the Atlantic Ocean starting at the Donkin peninsula, southeast of Glace Bay. However, the mine never opened.
International mining giant Xstrata bought the mine in 2006 and was developing it but later sold it to Kameron Collieries, a subsidiary of the Cline Group LLC of Illinois.
Since then, the Cline Group has handed the mine to Kameron Coal Management, a Canadian subsidiary of Cutlass Collieries LLC of Florida.
Paul said the deal will benefit 11 of the 13 First Nation bands in Nova Scotia, since Sipekne'katik and Millbrook have opted out of the assembly, the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative and the tripartite aboriginal consultation process that includes the provincial and federal governments.
It is hoped the bands will rejoin the provincial organization, he said, because there are other mining agreements in the works.
Details of those other talks can't be released yet, said Paul.
"We are in talks, and that is definitely on the table.
"When we do get an agreement, that's when we can give more information."