Canada’s newest iron ore producer, Labrador Iron Mines Limited (LIM), is writing history with production start-up from its James Mine, located in the prolific Labrador Trough. Following the successful commissioning of the mine and adjacent processing plant in mid-2011, iron ore sales to IOC, with shipments to China, began last fall and the company plans to reach commercial production this year, with plans to grow annual production to 5 million tonnes by 2015.
To appreciate how historical an achievement it is, LIM’s reactivation of iron ore mining in the district comes after a hiatus of 30 years following the closure of the Iron Ore Company of Canada’s Schefferville iron ore operations in 1982. What’s more, probably for the first time in Canadian northern development, historic impact benefits agreements were forged with no less than six Aboriginal or First Nations communities.
The closest community to LIM’s operations is the town of Schefferville, located across the border in Quebec. Established in the 1950s by IOC for the very operations that LIM is developing today, this boom town was then home to more than 5,000 people, in stark contrast to what it became after IOC’s closure.
The aboriginal population of the Quebec-Labrador “Peninsula” comprises a number of communities including Innu, Naskapi and Southern Inuit, all of which claim Indian title, aboriginal and treaty rights to some, or all, of the region. Adding to the uncertainty of the outstanding land claims are historic inter-provincial issues.
LIM’s Vice President for Government & Community Affairs, Joseph Lanzon, commented, “It was akin to walking a tightrope as we worked our way around the various issues. We knew that we needed to engage with all of the communities regardless of the status of their claims. Our social responsibility is entrenched in our corporate culture and we have made real commitments to all of the Aboriginal communities.”
Although there are no settlements, native or otherwise, in the Menihek district of Labrador, LIM engaged very early on with all of the aboriginal communities in the region.
In Labrador, there are two Innu communities at Natuashish and the Upper Lake Melville area, known respectively as the Mushuau Innu and the Sheshatshiu Innu, both represented by the Labrador Innu Nation. Also in Labrador is the NunatuKavut Community Council, which represents the former Métis Association and the Southern Inuit of Labrador.
At a recent signing ceremony in Ottawa, NunatuKavut President Chris Montague, said: “I am delighted that we have reached a mutually beneficial agreement with LIM. The company should be commended for its forward thinking and cooperation. It demonstrates the fact that corporations and aboriginal groups can respectfully work together for the good of all.”
On the Quebec side, agreements have been reached with the Innu of Matimekush Lac John, living in and around Schefferville, the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, located about 20 kilometres northeast of Schefferville and the Innu of Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam living near Sept-Îles.
All of the agreements are full IBA type agreements for the life of mine and follow earlier agreements in principle that set out the basic understandings and positions and that address such matters as environmental and cultural protection, jobs, training, aboriginal contracting and other financial participation. Each community has given its consent to the development of the Company’s iron ore projects on the conditions expressed in the agreements.
LIM’s Chairman and CEO, John Kearney, said: “We approached the development of our project with a firm aboriginal focus. We are committed to developing a respectful and co-operative relationship with our various aboriginal partners and to maximise the benefits to their members and to their communities. It is the right thing to do, and in our own best interests to do so.”
LIM has also agreed to make annual contributions to a Traditional Activities Fund created for the benefit of First Nations members in order to protect and preserve their rights and interests, lifestyle and relationship with the land, and to support various community social and youth programs.
Early on, LIM appointed Matthew Coon-Come to its board of directors. Mr. Coon-Come is currently Grand Chief of the Crees of Northern Quebec and a Board Member of the Grand Council of the Crees. He was formerly National Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
LIM’s Executive Vice President, Terence McKillen, who together with Lanzon was responsible for each of the IBA negotiations, commented, “Matthew’s guidance and advice were very important to us, especially in the early days, as we developed our aboriginal strategy and commenced the negotiating process.”
As the proponent first out the gate to achieve iron ore production in the region, LIM has been the torch bearer and has borne the brunt of the ups and downs of the complex world of aboriginal negotiations.
With overlapping land claims, many of which have not been accepted by various governments, and a disputed provincial boundary, which is not recognised by many of the players, LIM has had to seek consensus with different governments and a delicate balance between all of the communities.
By working co-operatively with its local aboriginal communities, Labrador Iron Mines has secured the social licence to operate, which is an essential component of any new mine development in northern Canada today.