Sept/Oct 2009

First Nations

A large need for education on mining and exploration

By J. C. Reyes

Last month, the Waubetek Business Development Corporation hosted its 4th Annual Economic Development Officers’ Conference in Sault Ste. Marie. I was honoured to be selected as a speaker at this conference, which is attended by almost all of the First Nations’ representatives in economic development from across the province.

Waubetek spends a great deal of time studying needs and opportunities within First Nations in Ontario. The information gathered is used to develop workshops that assist communities in identifying ways of bringing about their economic development.

In my opinion, exploration and mining should have received greater coverage at the conference. Only one brief workshop on impact benefit agreements was held, in which there seemed to be a surprising lack of interest among many of the participants. My belief is that they were interested in more basic information on exploration and mining. Although I broached the topic with conference organizers, they did not see the need for further coverage, as the program already addressed numerous other areas. This is unfortunate as the conference is a perfect venue to encourage dialogue between the mining industry and First Nations groups.

While at the conference, I seized the opportunity to speak with other participants and get a feel for their views on exploration and mining. The results were mixed. Many of them had very negative opinions on the topic. An incident like Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) — where six KI activists were jailed after they tried to stand in the way of government resource companies’ plans to develop the North — was not one they were prepared to deal with. As such, exploration and mining were low on their list of possible avenues for economic development.

Another popular concern among the participants was the disruption of regional habitat. Those who shared this concern probably have not visited First Nations communities that have recently hosted exploration or mine development.

As Ontario is a hotbed of exploration activity, it is vital that we bring awareness about exploration and mining to First Nations communities. There are a great many tools at our disposal to accomplish this, one of them being CIM’s Mining in Society show. It has the potential to have tremendous positive impact on First Nations communities.

During my presentation at the conference, I emphasized the fact that mining can occur anywhere, even if a community believes that they do not have mineral resources. One day, a discovery could be made and the affected community could be dragged kicking and screaming into negotiations without knowing the fundamental processes involved. I firmly believe, along with the rest of the Learning Together Board of Directors, that mining can be a way for First Nations communities to solve issues of poverty. First Nations communities affected by mining have benefited from high-paying jobs and skills training, whether members live on or off the reserves. It can potentially lead to the return of many members to First Nations communities.

We should all do our part in welcoming future long-term partners in the industry. First Nations communities have a right and a need to be part of the development that takes place on their lands. It is a legally mandated obligation for the industry to not only take notice of, but also to consult and accommodate the communities. It truly is in the best interest of the mining industry to invest in mechanisms that increase awareness of the positive side of exploration and mining. Those of us who have been in this industry for any length of time can attest to this win-win partnership.

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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