Highlights from PDAC’s social impact report: The social impacts of mining on Indigenous women and communities
The importance of respecting Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories is widely recognized in the Canadian mining industry. Understanding the values and culture of an Indigenous community is crucial to a mutually beneficial partnership, but mining companies also have a duty to anticipate the social impacts of their operations on the host community, as well as mitigate negative effects.
The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) recently published its social impact report titled “studying the social impacts of mineral development projects on indigenous communities.” PDAC used literature review, a case study, and interviews to analyze the effects of mining on the social infrastructure of the host Indigenous communities. This article highlights the findings and recommendations from the report.
A unique perspective
The mining industry tends to focus on social impacts at the community level, but men and women in the community experience these impacts differently. Whereas men may benefit more from employment opportunities, Indigenous women (who typically focus on the household, family planning, and the broader community) are disproportionately affected by social disruption.
Drawing inspiration from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), PDAC’s study applied a gendered lens to analyze the impacts of mining projects on Indigenous women, and how these impacts can affect gender imbalances in Indigenous communities. All five interviewees in the study were women: four Indigenous community members and the mining company’s community relations manager.
According to PDAC’s report, starting a mining project with a gender-based analysis will help elucidate the roles of women, men, and gender diverse people in Indigenous society, and present a more complete understanding of the project’s social impacts. Several mineral resource companies already use Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) principles as part of their permitting process. The report suggests that a proactive approach to involving women and understanding their perspectives and values is a prerequisite to supporting an Indigenous community during a mining project.
1 | Indigenous women’s issues
Women in Indigenous host communities face a range of social impacts from mining projects. The MMIWG report states that when a mine brings in a transient, predominantly male workforce with little connection to the host community, it can exacerbate vulnerable situations that lead to increased crime (e.g., substance abuse, gambling, prostitution, violence, and harassment). When a mine hires Indigenous men from a host community, this can increase responsibilities for the women of the community (e.g., volunteer firefighting).
Women who work in mining camps often face social issues onsite. According to a recent study by Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, high percentages of women have reported harassment, discrimination, assault, and abuse at camps in Yukon and northern B.C. Hyper-masculinity, ineffective prevention strategies, lack of trust in grievance reporting, and denial of the existence of these issues perpetuate an unsafe environment for women.
Indigenous women may also experience limited opportunities and career development due to stereotypes. They often have lower paying jobs, and rotational shift work is difficult for mothers who are primary caregivers. This can result in demotivation to enter the workforce and can reinforce gender imbalances.
To address these issues, mining companies can
- create women’s support groups onsite;
- improve procedures for responding to harassment complaints;
- expand opportunities, education, and training for women to take on technical and managerial roles; and
- provide community-based programming and family support (e.g., daycare).
Indigenous women should be included in decision-making processes and the development of equality initiatives. PDAC advocates that mining projects should support, not undermine, the human rights of Indigenous women.
2 | Housing and cost of living
The remoteness of Indigenous communities, especially in northern Canada, results in an inflated cost of living. Transportation costs and complexity of distribution lead to soaring prices and food insecurity. Remote communities also experience housing issues such as overcrowding, shortages, and poor conditions. An influx of mining workers increases competition for food and housing, exacerbating these issues.
Providing employment and business opportunities for Indigenous community members can increase their income and improve quality of living. However, locals with mining jobs often leave the community for better opportunities, so their incomes may not contribute to the local economy. PDAC’s report suggests that mining companies conduct socio-economic assessments and develop programs to encourage people to stay in their communities. Mining companies should also build camp housing facilities to mitigate housing issues.
3 | Community infrastructure
Indigenous communities in remote areas can experience a lack of safe drinking water, poor road conditions, poor digital infrastructure, and gaps in education. Fortunately, mining companies can create mutually beneficial improvements to the infrastructure in host communities.
Due to regulatory requirements and environmental commitments, mining companies routinely monitor water quality for their operations. This can be expanded into the development of water management programs for nearby communities. Heavy mining equipment can further damage roads, so mining companies should be prepared to help maintain and/or build roads.
Mining companies can help address the lack of technical literacy and internet access in remote communities, which limit community development and access to healthcare, education, and banking. PDAC’s report suggests that computers with internet access should be provided for families to stay connected during rotational shifts.
Education and training for Indigenous community members builds resilience in the community and strengthens the workforce for the mining industry. Companies can also facilitate career growth and opportunities for Indigenous employees to reach management and executive levels. Of course, Indigenous knowledge should be integrated into these programs.
The report states that in addition to improving infrastructure, mining companies should support local social programs so that communities remain resilient after the closure of a project.
4| Traditional lifestyles and land
Traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, and harvesting are essential elements of Indigenous cultural identities. However, there has been a decline in participation in these activities, and the outflow of younger community members leaves elders with fewer opportunities to pass on traditional knowledge. Employment in mining can provide financial resources that enable the purchase of equipment and supplies for traditional activities, but rotational work schedules often conflict with the timing of these activities (e.g., long hunting trips).
To mitigate these issues, mining companies can provide time off for traditional activities and build generational support in the community. Companies should also consult with host communities regarding traditional land use and involve them in archaeological assessments and field mapping. There could be opportunities to expand traditional land use, for example, building roadways that follow harvesting routes.
5 | Health and wellbeing
Health issues in Indigenous communities are exacerbated by extreme poverty rates, intergenerational trauma, and poor relationships with healthcare providers. The remoteness of many Indigenous communities also creates a lack of adequate health facilities and a shortage of healthcare workers. Mining camps often provide health services from basic first aid to trained first responders, and companies can expand these services to the host community and/or build new local facilities.
Connection with culture and language improves wellness in Indigenous communities. The ability to work on traditional territory can strengthen an Indigenous employee’s sense of belonging. Mining companies can invest in Indigenous cultural programs for all employees, designed and managed by Indigenous employees.
Mining jobs often come with a significant increase in income, which can change the power dynamics in families and cause problems when there is a lack of financial literacy. Providing financial education can benefit employees. An interviewee in PDAC’s study suggested that companies should hold workshops for potential employees and their families to ease the transition to mining work.
Applications of the report
The case study and interviews took place at Brucejack gold mine in northern B.C., on the traditional territory of the Skii km Lax Ha First Nation and the Tahltan First Nation. As such, the study does not consider the perspectives of Inuit, Métis, and other First Nations. Therefore, the findings of the study should not be generalized to other Indigenous communities, as each has unique culture, geography, history, socio-economic conditions, and experience with mining companies. The report acts as a primer for companies that are considering exploration on traditional lands, but social impacts should be considered in the context of the specific host community.
PDAC’s Social Impact Report highlights the importance of using a gender-sensitive approach to Indigenous engagement to further understand the social impacts of mining projects. Companies can refer to the report throughout all stages of a mining project for insight on social impact mitigation strategies, impact benefit agreements, and programs to support the success of both mineral resource operations and host Indigenous communities.
To read PDAC’s Social Impact Report in full, visit https://www.pdac.ca/indigenousaffairs/social-impact-report.
Kesiah Stoker is a multi-skilled freelance writer.
I enjoyed your article I work at Muscle White mine in early 2000 and they and outstanding job supporting indigenous workers to learn skills feel some self worth and be part of a team to start a great career. It is important that this programme stays in place, to protect the up coming generation , and it’s also part of being morally responsible.