Aboriginal Canadians and their support for the mining industry: the reality, challenges and solutions

CIM Montreal 2015
Libby Sharman (PR Associates)
This summer PR Associates commissioned a survey to assess the perceptions that rural Aboriginal Canadians have of the mineral exploration and mining industry in Canada. This is the first time such a survey has been undertaken to accurately gauge the perspectives of Canada’s Aboriginal communities and allow comparison with the perceptions of non-Aboriginal Canadians, despite the fact Aboriginal Canadians are critical long-term rights-holders in the mining industry.
This information is particularly relevant in the landscape of modern mineral exploration and mining. According to Natural Resources Canada, an estimated 1,200 Aboriginal communities are located within 200 kilometres of approximately 180 producing mines and more than 2,500 active exploration properties. Mining is also the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal people in Canada and employment is poised to increase. The June 2014 Tsilquot’in Supreme Court of Canada decision serves to place this survey in a legal perspective. This decision, which affirmed Aboriginal title, has placed more emphasis on the need to work with Aboriginal communities to gain acceptance of resource projects in their traditional territory.
The results of this survey provide valuable insight mining proponents can use to help gain social license by building positive relationships with aboriginal communities, addressing concerns and ensuring the communities benefit from proposed projects.
PR Associates engaged Mustel Group, a market research firm, to conduct a random telephone survey of 500 Aboriginal Canadians aged 18 years and older in rural/remote communities. Mustel Group was selected to conduct the survey based on their extensive experience in similar studies with the Aboriginal population and on First Nations-related topics. Respondents were screened and self-identified as a Canadian Aboriginal person (i.e., First Nations, Inuit, Métis) and interviews were all completed from July 10 to 26, 2014.
The study revealed that the overall opinions of mineral exploration and the mining industry among Canadian Aboriginals tend towards an unfavourable impression (only 38% favourable). Support for the industry is highest in the three Territories (57% favourable) and least favourable in Alberta and Quebec (34% and 25% favourable, respectively). The findings are relatively consistent by demographic characteristics such as gender, age and proximity to a mining project. Even those past/presently employed in the mining industry have similar views to those who are not.
This survey reveals that the perceptions of the mineral exploration and mining industry by rural Aboriginal Canadians are divided with a greater tendency toward an unfavourable overall impression. This unfavourable impression is more pronounced when compared to results from a similar survey of non-Aboriginal Canadians where 76–82% of those surveyed had a favourable impression of the industry.
However, the surveyed Aboriginal Canadians recognize the benefits and many positive aspects provided by mining companies operating in Canada. A majority also identifies positive words/images with the industry. While these perceptions are promising and may serve to attract Aboriginals in these communities to work in mining, concerns about mining’s respect for the environment, and a lack of trust take a toll on the industry’s image.
While these results are generally negative, they provide valuable insight into the areas where the industry is well perceived and where improvements can be made. The importance of social license for projects across Canada has been demonstrated by numerous recent events, and this survey highlights that, despite some commentary to the contrary, this is far from being assured amongst the rights-holders represented by Aboriginal Canadians. There are many companies that have succeeded in partnering with First Nations, developing mutually beneficial relationships and gaining project acceptance through thoughtful and well-informed engagement, which demonstrates it can be achieved.
Recommendations:
• As the first of its kind, these survey results should serve as a baseline on which the mineral exploration and mining industry should measure Aboriginal Canadian’s perceptions of this industry.
• This survey has identified a disconnect between the perceptions Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians have of the industry. In this context it should be viewed as a key stepping-stone in building genuine relationships within Aboriginal communities, to improve engagement with Aboriginal Canadians, find common ground and gain project acceptance.
• Drawing on more than a decade of success in promoting the economic benefits of mining to communities, the mining industry should now focus on Aboriginal collaboration, building trust and demonstrating respect and concern for the environment, areas the survey results identify as needing improvement.
Keywords: Social license to operate, Mining, First Nations, Perception survey, Aboriginal Canadians
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