August 2009

The making of good agreements

A three-step approach

By M. Eisner

Paul McKenzie, Wahgoshig First Nation councillor (left), and Dave Russell, president of Apollo Gold, at the grand opening of the Black Fox Mine

You don’t have to be a giant to have impact. The Wahgoshig First Nation is, by any standards, a small community. Only about 160 of the 278 people registered with the First Nation live on the 30-square-mile reserve located approximately 50 kilometres east of Matheson, Ontario. The Wahgoshigs’ traditional territory, however, is very large — the Wahgoshig people currently occupy a large part of land that is now known as Northeastearn Ontario and Northwestern Quebec. The Abitibi Reserve #70 (Wahgoshig) is adjacent to the Black Fox gold mine site, owned and operated by Apollo Gold, a Yukon-based company with head offices in Denver, Colorado. In September 2002, equipped with the proper government permits, Apollo Gold began exploration on land the company purchased in 2002 from Exall Resources.

Step one: Getting to know your neighbours

In late 2003, Maurice J. Kistabish approached Apollo Gold and introduced himself as a representative of the Wahgoshig First Nation. Since Black Fox was located in traditional Wahgoshig territory, he explained that his community would like to enter into a relationship with the mining company. This came as somewhat of a surprise to Apollo Gold.

“This was the first time we had heard of such a thing,” said Ryan Lougheed, general manager of the Black Fox project. Although the company was aware that the Canadian Mining Act states resource companies must consult with First Nations, there were no specific guidelines for Apollo to follow. At first, it all seemed a little confusing.

“There were certainly challenges for us as a mining company,” admitted Lougheed. “It was explained to us that we were conducting work on the traditional lands of the Wahgoshig First Nation, but when we asked for the territory to be explained to us — what it meant, where it was and how it was defined — there were few answers. It was understanding the meaning of these things that was difficult.”

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