Improving relations with First Nations
Virtually all resource development projects, in all corners of the world, are located within the traditional territories of indigenous communities. Members of these communities have ideas about how development should occur and how their community will be engaged, share the benefits and address the risks. In the 21st century, large industrial developments simply cannot proceed without the support of the local indigenous communities.
British Columbia is unique in Canada in that treaties have largely not been settled with First Nations. Until recently, efforts to build positive working relationships between the minerals sector and First Nations peoples have proceeded with all the speed of glacial melt. The good news is that a new era of enlightenment has emerged, with more inclusive engagement and consultation. This is due in part to leadership shown by the B.C. & Yukon Chamber of Mines (BCYCM).
When Dan Jepsen joined BCYCM in 2002 as executive director, he set about taking a leadership role in improving relations between indigenous communities and the resource sector. Jepsen’s incentive came from a depth of first hand experience as manager of aboriginal affairs and environment for Western Forest Products. From that job he had learned how much the resource industry needs a mutually beneficial working relationship with First Nations leaders and communities.
The first step was to offer workshops on First Nations Cultural Awareness. Led by Bob Joseph (indigenous corporate training) and Jepsen, the workshops included insight into First Nations culture and heritage, their varying interests, languages, cultural differences and their respect for land and resources. Of that first step, Jepsen said, “Treaty settlements are at least five to ten years off. We are interested in exploring for new mineral deposits now and therefore we must seek opportunities to engage with First Nations communities in a meaningful way.”
In conjunction with First Nations groups, the BCYCM’s community relations committee developed a treaty position statement in the summer of 2003. The statement contains 10 guiding principles for establishing a sustainable relationship between the mineral sector and First Nations in British Columbia.
In 2005, BCYCM introduced its Aboriginal Community Engagement Guidebook with funding support from the provincial Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. It provides guidance on First Nation culture, heritage, interests and expectations, and explains how these differ from and affect the resource sector. It is a strategic document that clearly states what is required to develop mutual respect, shared opportunity and open communication. It is not a light read but is a necessary read.
Exploration and mining generally occur in remote regions that often suffer from entrenched economic hardships. Employment opportunities in the resource sector are available in many locations but training programs have been relatively unavailable. To address this disconnect, the BCYCM and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) jointly developed a training program for First Nations individuals for employment in the resource sector. James Morin, Ph.D., P.Geo., of the Mtis Nation has been hired to head the program.
Morin will develop an overview of possible training programs, elicit the required funding and host educational seminars. He says, “The BCYCM-BCIT partnership is an innovative approach that links training and education directly with the employment needs of both industry and First Nations in B.C. It is an opportunity for both parties to develop closer ties through training and employment. With this initiative we will provide a continuous pathway for aboriginal students from entry-level courses delivered in communities through to certificate, diploma and degree programs provided by BCIT and other post-secondary partners.”
Much more needs to be done to fully resolve the outstanding issues between industry and First Nations in British Columbia, but solid groundwork is now being laid.
Julie Domvile is a freelance writer in Victoria. She can be reached at email@example.com