February 2011

Aboriginal Perspectives

From roadblocks to building blocks: Noront works on Aboriginal relations

By Virginia Heffernan

Noront-incineration-manager

Environmental protection is a key focus at Esker Camp. In photo: Noront’s waste and incineration manager  | Photo courtesy of www.mikawaa.com


Toronto-based Noront Resources has stepped up its efforts to work with the communities in the vast 5,000-square-kilometre area of the James Bay Lowlands, where mineralization abounds under traditional Aboriginal land.

As the largest claim holder in the camp, the junior has dedicated a significant part of its annual budget to establishing working relationships with the local communities, including Marten Falls and Webequie, the Aboriginal communities most affected by exploration activities. It is expected that all communities in the region will stand to benefit as the region moves closer to development and government becomes involved in regional infrastructure building.

“One of our main focuses is on the youth in Webequie and Marten Falls,” says Wes Hanson, president and CEO of Noront, who declined to attach a dollar figure to the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) program in the area. “We are encouraging them to stay in school and continue their education. We want to show the young students that there are potential jobs in mining that will allow them to live in the community and, at the same time, work at their careers.”

The company has established a bursary to acknowledge students who have demonstrated leadership, shown academic excellence, act as role models or inspire others to further their education. Two of the 2009 award recipients used the bursary to enroll in a diamond drilling course, while another is using the award to pay for flight training fees and expenses. The company also supports, and is represented on, the board of DAREarts,

an educational-based arts program focused on engaging at-risk youth. DAREarts has had a successful annual program in Webequie for the past three years, and this year, a similar program has been introduced to Marten Falls.

Last August, Noront and Mining Matters, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s mining education charitable organization, joined forces to create a youth outreach program for the two communities. The Mining Matters summer camps, sponsored by Noront, the Ontario Ministry of Mines, Northern Development and Forestry and the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, were intended to educate local youth about exploration and mining and to encourage them to consider careers in the sector. Based on camp attendance and community feedback, Noront believes the camps were highly successful.

Forging relationships

The efforts undertaken by Noront to establish positive relations with Aboriginal groups is a good model for other exploration companies, says Scott Jacob, a former Webequie First Nation Chief now working with Noront. “The communities would like to ensure that there is minimal impact on the environment and support for training and employment opportunities,” says Jacob, who notes that the unemployment rate in Webequie is currently about 80 per cent. “The communities want direct employment, but also support for First Nations businesses so people can get the employment that they need.”

Jacob uses the Webequie First Nation’s joint venture agreement with Winnipeg-based Cyr Drilling, signed two years ago, as an example. Webequie has a 20 per cent interest in Cyr Drilling Ontario, a subsidiary of the parent company that is focusing on the Ring of Fire exploration camp. In 2013, the First Nation group will have the option to purchase full ownership. Noront is supporting that partnership and in 2011 Cyr will be Noront’s only drilling contractor.

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