TORONTO – When National Chief Phil Fontaine of the ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS addressed an audience of some 350 members of the mineral industry on Oct. 12 at a luncheon sponsored by the PROSPECTORS & DEVELOPERS ASSOCIATION OF CANADA (PDAC), it marked a tangible sign of the increasingly close partnership between Aboriginal people and the industry that is one of their biggest employers. In his remarks, Fontaine explored the economic opportunities that exist for both Aboriginal people and the mineral exploration industry in their growing relationship.
Within the next eight years, the mining and minerals industry will need more than 80,000 new employees, and it will be looking to Aboriginal communities to supply a growing part of this need. For that reason, the industry has been partnering with Aboriginal peoples on a number of projects whose goal is to make Aboriginal communities more sustainable through education, training and employment.
Aboriginal communities are a natural place for the industry to look for its employees there are some 1,200 communities across Canada that are within 200 km of mineral operations. And the industry is already one of the largest industrial employers of Aboriginal people.
In recent years, the PDAC has initiated several projects to inform Aboriginal people about the mineral exploration industry and the opportunities it offers. At the same time, in its search for minerals and metals, the industry is benefiting from the traditional knowledge and experience of Aboriginal peoples.
One result of this effort can be seen at the annual PDAC international convention, which annually attracts some 17,000 delegates from around the world. Since 2006, the convention program has dedicated a half day to the discussion of Aboriginal participation in mineral exploration in Canada and overseas.
The PDAC also participated in the development of a Mining Information Kit for Aboriginal Communities that describes the mining cycle, from early exploration to mine closure, and helps communities to identify ways in which exploration and mining can help them become more sustainable.
A close working relationship may not simply mean jobs within the industry. Mineral exploration and mining need support services, and in many parts of Canada these are already being supplied by Aboriginal companies.
The PDAC has a Mining Matters school program that promotes the importance of rocks, metals, minerals, mining and knowledge of Canadas geology. It has taken the program to teachers in Inuit and First Nations communities, providing a valuable tool for teachers who are eager to enhance their students knowledge of the earth sciences.
This summer, the PDAC gave its support to an important initiative that Chief Fontaine says can help alleviate poverty in Aboriginal communities: government sharing of the revenues it collects from resource development.
Aboriginal leaders say they have not received their fair share of the public wealth that results from resource development, and to date federal and provincial governments have been reluctant to share these revenues. The PDAC is advocating for revenue-sharing, and to this end wants to partner with other resource sector industries so that jointly they can bring pressure on governments to address the issue.
Carolyn Purden is a communications consultant who works with the mining industry.