A push for broader exposure, increased activity and industry engagement will define the future for Learning Together, said the organization’s new president, Don Deranger. In April, Deranger, Vice-Chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council in Saskatchewan, was elected to a two-year term as president of the not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to enable more Aboriginal communities in Canada to benefit from mineral exploration and mine development.
Deranger’s election was a part of Learning Together’s annual general meeting, which took place at the organization’s recent two-day annual conference in Vancouver.
Deranger said he wants to increase the number of events and workshops held by the organiztion. “Learning Together is not known equally well across the country and we have to work to change that,” he said. “First Nations communities across Canada face common challenges where mining and exploration are concerned. We need to learn more about the industry and mining needs to take the concerns of First Nations seriously.”
Also elected to the board were Kim Rainville, treasurer; Lana Eagle, vice- president; Chief Theresa Hall, secretary; Glenn Nolan, past president; as well as Jack Blacksmith, Darrel Beaulieu, John Cutfeet and Mary Boyden.
Learning Together executive director Juan Carlos Reyes said 130 people registered for the conference. More than 40 First Nations communities were represented, with delegates from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. Two Sami, who are Nordic indigenous people, travelled from Norway to attend the conference.
Also in attendance was Jean Vavrek, CIM executive director. This is the fourth year that a representative of CIM, which has been increasing its level of sponsorship of the event, has attended a Learning Together conference.
“It’s a good format — open, small and intimate — with a diverse group,” Vavrek said. “It’s a terrific opportunity to see how other people perceive the mining industry and to build up relationships over the years. It’s a learning experience for everyone.”
Reyes explained that the conference followed a tried-and-true format. “Our conference is the same every year,” he said. “We have two workshops to teach [the mining] industry about First Nations and two workshops to teach First Nations about the industry. [In addition, there are] five case studies for industry and communities to learn from others.”
Past president Glenn Nolan said Learning Together brings Aboriginal communities together to talk about their experiences, both good and bad, related to mining and to learn how to seek a greater benefit from mining in their territories.
“According to the latest NRCan information bulletin, there are 1,200 projects, from early to closed stage, located near or adjacent to an Aboriginal community in Canada,” he said. Nolan explained that he came up with the idea for Learning Together about 10 years ago. “I realized companies had a significant information gap on best approaches to working with communities,” he said. “But, more importantly, I saw a significant lack of access to meaningful and relevant information related to all stages of the mining cycle for Aboriginal communities.”
He added that because of this gap, First Nations communities often refused to discuss anything until they understood the process.
“This led to a difference in objectives between the companies advocating the development of a mining claim and the communities that needed to better understand the issues related to a project, including the various opportunities and the possible environmental impacts before moving forward,” Nolan explained.
The first Learning Together conference was held in 2006. Prince Albert will be the host of next April’s event.