Identifying Common Ground: The Intersection between Canada’s Mining Sector and Aboriginal Communities

We are all aware of the many challenges facing the minerals sector today. These include securing access to lands for exploration and development, project financing, uncertainty of environmental and project approval processes, and gaining the trust and support of Aboriginal and other communities. Aboriginal communities are making progress in asserting their role in relationships with mineral companies to make their projects successful and in protecting the environment and ensuring long term benefits for youth and their families.

Today, many in industry acknowledge that their projects are on lands or territories where Aboriginal peoples have Treaty, established or asserted Aboriginal rights and interests. However, there remain conflicts over use of lands: for mineral development and/or for traditional and community use and protection of land and environment. Communities need to be involved in all decisions affecting their lands and gaining benefits from mineral projects. Many Indigenous communities see the minerals sector as a catalyst for community economic and social development.

In November, at the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association (CAMA)’s annual conference on the Resource Industry and Aboriginal Community Development, Stratos had the opportunity to engage in conversation around some of these issues. Stratos Founding Chair George Greene moderated an Industry Armchair Panel with three industry experts: Michael Fox, Director of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), Dominique Girard, VP Nunavut of Agnico Eagle, and Pierre Gratton, President and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC).

This armchair discussion focused on ways to optimize socio-economic benefits and mitigate negative impacts. It was situated within a broader context of reconciliation: how can mineral exploration and mining play a role in advancing the reconciliation agenda in Canada? Panelists noted how some companies are already working with communities to act on reconciliation in the way in which they engage, through formal agreements with Indigenous communities, and by integrating aspects of reconciliation into their company’s principles and policies.

The remainder of the conversation focused on: a) the types of economic benefits associated with mining and mineral exploration and lessons learned, b) mechanisms for their realization, and c) the conditions for enabling mutual rewards to be seen by companies and communities alike. 

Good practices that emerged out of this conversation included:

  • In each community, identify opportunities to increase benefits and which elements assist in reducing negative social impacts.
  • Look for opportunities at all stages of the mines life cycle. For example, at the geoscience and exploration stages, through participation in land use planning, and in regional infrastructure investments that can contribute to positive impacts on the surrounding communities.
  • Transfer knowledge on procurement and local business development, and support for capacity building to maximize opportunities for local employment.
  • Understand the commonalities of interests such as shared values and objectives, as well as challenges, such as different cultures and historical backgrounds.

Stratos’ own experience, gained through ongoing work with Teck Resources Limited (Teck) and the Ktunaxa Nation in British Columbia, was weaved into the discussion as the moderator spoke of how relationship between First Nation and the company is demonstrating joint accountability in implementing the innovative Impact Management and Benefits Agreement signed by the Ktunaxa Nation Council and Teck. The Agreement represents an example of reconciliation through the recognition by Teck of the Elk Valley (Qukin ?ama?kis) as the territory of the Ktunazxa peoples, and the incorporation of Ktunaxa land stewardship principles into the agreement. The implementation of the Agreement is a leading example of partnerships within Canada’s mining sector.