August 2011

Aboriginal Perspectives

Learning Together workshop

By Juan Carlos Reyes

Promoting good relationships

 Learning together

Learning Together workshop | Normand Huberdeau / NH Photographes Ltée

Each year at the CIM Conference & Exhibition, Learning Together hosts an Aboriginal workshop, which provides an opportunity to showcase the expertise and knowledge gained through years of building case studies, working with communities and industry, and creating strong partnerships.

Former National Chief Delbert Riley kicked off our workshop in his typically entertaining style by contributing a lively history of Aboriginal treaty rights and how they were developed, as well as his thoughts on what they truly mean for First Nations. Long before Canada became a country, First Nations entered into treaties with the British government, and it is because of these early alliances that Canada has prospered. After all, it was Delbert’s ancestors, under the leadership of the iconic Chief Pontiac, who defended against British military occupation in what was known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, to secure the Great Lakes region for a prospective Canada.

Derek Teevan, vice-president Aboriginal and government affairs at Detour Gold, then presented a case study related to the company that has the potential to be one of Ontario’s largest gold developers. Detour’s newly minted Impact Benefit Agreement was developed with three communities that all share traditional land usage, but that have very different cultural and governmental realities. The company has worked hard to ensure that First Nations remain meaningful partners in the development of traditional lands, an approach that has seen its fair share of challenges. Because each community was very different and had completely different expectations and approaches to negotiations, achieving consensus was not easy. Teevan stressed the importance of working with all the community partners, which for him included establishing an agreement with a Métis community and to address concerns quickly and openly. Diligence needs to be exercised so that all relevant Aboriginal communities and organizations in the region are consulted properly, and so that all partners understand the complexities and costs associated with these types of projects.

To complete the day, we hosted a roundtable discussion with leaders from the Quebec Cree communities and from the Yellowknives Dene. The cultural and demographic mix of our panellists set the stage for a healthy diversity of opinions. From Yellowknife were Councillor Nuni Sanspariel and Bill Plotner, a 20-year-old mechanic apprentice working at Rio Tinto. From the Quebec Cree communities were Jack Blacksmith, president of the Cree Mineral Exploration Board, and Robert Ottereyes, a consultant with over 40 years of experience in the mining industry. Panellists shared some of their secrets for achieving success in the minerals industry, as well as the programs they have put in place to increase member participation in the sector.

Although the examples provided at this year’s session are both inspiring and revealing, they are not the norm: the reality in most parts of the country is much less promising. Because nearly every community has a different set of expectations, requirements and methods for negotiating, the chances are good that the common experience of most participants will be different from what was heard at our workshop.

But that does not mean there is not value in highlighting these success stories. Our goal at Learning Together is to bridge the gap between the industry and Aboriginal communities, and a big part of that goal involves educating and sharing best practices. When communities understand the strategies that have worked for other communities, they get a much better view of what might work for them.

We look forward to continuing to support our communities in their efforts to create meaningful and long-term partnerships in the mining and exploration industries.

Juan Carlos Reyes is one of the founders of Learning Together and has been its executive director since 2008. He has nearly 15 years of mining and Aboriginal development expertise, and has worked tirelessly to promote economic development opportunities in the mining industry for Aboriginal communities.

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