August 2008

Moving beyond

The inclusion of aboriginal people in the mining industry

By G. Nolan

Boris Lum and Glenn Nolan take a break from performing a geophysical EM survey in the NWT.


Mining has always been about challenges, change and innovation. Challenges confront the industry from the earliest stages of mineral exploration, through development, production and closure. Change comes in many forms and is essential to meet the growing demands of the industry, to remain competitive and to deliver the best product in a burgeoning market. Innovation is necessary to take advantage of the latest technologies, make the industry more efficient and environmentally sustainable, and to optimize the use of local human resources.

Moving towards a sustainable future, the industry must tackle all these challenges in a proactive manner. This includes the development of cost-effective processes, enhanced protection of the natural environment and demonstrating social responsibility in the inclusion of local aboriginal communities in all aspects of the mining cycle.

Of these, including meaningful engagement for local aboriginal communities can be the most difficult initiative to undertake, as a wide range of issues might come into play. Many communities are still dealing with a workforce that is underemployed, lacks specific skills for the mining industry and has had limited experience in a wage economy. While daunting, these challenges are not insurmountable barriers to aboriginal inclusion in the industry; they are simply challenges that require creative solutions.

Historically, the aboriginal people of North America — Wendat, Lakota, Yakima, Blood, Omushkego, Anishinabek, Iroquois, Inuit and Dene, to name a few — were self-governing and practiced varied and elaborate forms of spirituality. These people thrived largely because they utilized natural resources. They hunted, fished, trapped, farmed, and mined the minerals and rock. They extracted silver, copper, jade and turquoise for use in jewelry and tools. They quarried siltstone, obsidian, chert and flint for axes, knives, arrowheads and scrapers.

Where we are

Today the situation is very different. Life for many of our people in Canada is dictated by government policies that keep our people from prospering from the resources that surround our communities. Most aboriginal people in Canada have been excluded from benefiting from resource development, including those of the minerals industry. “Outsiders” have come into the traditional territory of a community, conducted and completed their work and then moved on. To add insult to this exclusion, many of the exploration and mining projects have had considerable negative impacts on the land and waters of these communities.

The methods used in mining today are of course significantly different from those of the past. So too are the attitudes. Many communities are willing to participate in every aspect of the mining industry; however, many of their members feel excluded from mainstream Canadian society.

Aboriginal communities continue to be largely overlooked when companies are seeking both skilled and unskilled workers. And many companies are even recruiting from outside Canada. Government programs actually encourage the use of immigrant workers. How can aboriginal communities and industry work together to increase the participation of aboriginal people in the mining industry?

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