August 2008

First Nations

Learning Together — an aboriginal approach to building mining relationships

By J.C. Reyes

Chief Glenn Nolan presents Vice Chief Don Deranger from the Prince Albert Grand Council with a gift for speaking at Learning Together.

Learning Together is an aboriginal organization whose mission is to share knowledge and experience through dialogue that will enable First Nations, industry, government and other stakeholders to make informed decisions.

This year’s Learning Together conference was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on April 9 and 10. The two-day event attracted nearly 200 participants from over 50 aboriginal communities located across the country and drew over 100 industry and government stakeholders.

The primary purpose of the conference was to share knowledge, create an interactive medium for participants to get first-hand accounts from real-life case studies and experienced professionals, and to share best practices. Aboriginal participants often describe this conference as unique. As one of our delegates, Vice Chief Paul Gaul of the Waswanapi First Nation, put it: “It is the first time I have attended a mining conference where 90 per cent of the speakers are aboriginal.” Industry representatives have also found it to be an extremely useful way  to learn how to improve relationships and negotiations with aboriginal communities.

Interactivity is the key that makes our conferences so successful year after year. Every workshop and case study has a maximum of 35 participants, in order to ensure that everyone feels comfortable asking questions.

Our opening keynote speaker was Vice Chief Don Deranger of the Prince Albert Grand Council in Saskatchewan. His presentation, entitled “Athabasca Regional Perspective on Exploration,” touched on a current hot topic in aboriginal communities: the mining of uranium. The region he represents is one of the largest uranium-producing regions in the world, and one of the best case studies of aboriginal communities working together and collaborating to achieve regional success.

Vice Chief Deranger emphasized the key priorities put forward by the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) communities to carry out successful First Nations partnerships:

  • Economic development for resident.
  • The region is not against positive economic developments.
  • Preserving the land is essential.
  • Our participation in the development is mandatory.
  • The community leadership has generally not been pleased with exploration companies.

He went on to note  significant regional success, which included:

  • First Nations having large and growing development corporations that own businesses in aviation, catering, trucking and many other mining related companies.
  • The presence of over 1,200 working residents. 
  • The fact that regional economic development has focused on transportation, with $28 million being secured for new roads.
  • The Athabasca Basin Development Limited Partnership, formed five years ago, now ranks among the top 100 companies in Saskatchewan in terms of revenue.
  • The fact that land use planning continues to be a priority and is constantly taking place.

The Prince Albert Grand Council region is a success story of collective work between First Nations that should be shared with more aboriginal communities and, most importantly, with industry. Understanding that not only the community in which development will take place will be affected, but also the region as a whole, will expedite the negotiation process and increase the chances of achieving successful and long lasting support in the region. This can go a long way if the company ever has to negotiate with another community. In addition, as it was the case in PAGC, the communities that are less affected often assist in negotiating on behalf of the industry.

To find out more about last year’s conference and upcoming events from Learning Together visit Our next conference will be held in April 2009 in Montreal, Quebec.

Juan Carlos Reyes is an Aboriginal consultant with and the executive director of Learning Together. He is passionate about human rights and works tirelessly to help improve the lives of Canadian Aboriginal people.

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