The holidays have been enjoyed, resolutions made, and the time has come to get a fresh start with a new year. And there is no better place to start than with respect for the indigenous peoples of Canada.
In November, the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association held its annual conference in Ottawa, and I was privileged to attend. The quality of the program was excellent.
It addressed jurisdictional, environmental, legislative, and legal aspects of the industry from both the community and industry viewpoints. Most importantly it addressed the needs and desires of the aboriginal youth who will be tomorrow’s leaders. They will be involved and knowledgeable.
Across all of the speakers a few key themes emerged.
Indigenous people desire respect – be they First Nations, Metis, Inuit or others. They want our industry to treat them as an important part of the process. Learn about their cultures. Respect how they use their land. And treat them in the same way you would a federal or provincial entity.
Start the consultation process as soon as a project is proposed. That means discussing what will happen before the trenches go in or the drills start turning. Waiting until the board allocates development money is far too late to foster understanding.
Free prior and informed consent does not always lead to approval of a project. It leads first to discussion and compromise. Sometimes, even then the answer from the indigenous community may be “no” if the damage to the land is seen to be unreasonable or compromises cannot be agreed upon. But beware of the nation that uses its veto as a bargaining chip or scare tactic. There is no need for that if discussions are open and honest, held as equal parties.
Then if the project is worthy of building, plan on sharing the profits with the local communities. This can take many forms such as a percentage of the mine’s cash flow, a net smelter royalty on steady or sliding scales. Make plans to invest a fixed amount in the community before the project officially goes ahead. This will help defray the costs of setting up small business or their buying equipment for potential work with the mine.
The audience at the CAMA meeting was largely from the indigenous community, and there was a strong message for them, too. Each nation must decide what it wants to get out of a project before consultation begins. How much compensation is appropriate? What training/education will be made available so that members can hold jobs at the project? How much help from the proponent is expected so that communities can establish sustainable small businesses? What lands and waters are especially deserving of preservation?
Only when all parties have a clear idea of their goals and needs can discussions between equals take place.
As an industry and as project proponents, let us all practise respect for the indigenous peoples of this land. It is a simple noun, but when we use it as a verb, a word that requires action, respect becomes a powerful force that benefits all sides.