Canadian Mining Journal


Get comfortable being uncomfortable: Driving anti-racism in mining

Carolyn Burns and Jane Church of NetPositive outline some considerations for driving anti-racism in the mining sector.

Anti-racism is the active practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance. In May, the murder of George Floyd while in police custody was the catalyst for a global discussion and reckoning about anti-racism. In Canada, the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi as well as the assault of Chief Allen Adam has reinforced that discussion. Individuals, governments, companies and civil society organizations across the country are thinking and talking about anti-racism in a way we never have before. We are collectively launching ourselves into a new discussion asking: What is anti-racism? What does it mean for me personally? What does it look like for my organization? How does it affect the decisions I make? Where do I start? How do I talk about it? Where do I go to learn? What if I mess it up?

If you are navigating this discussion in your workplace or personally, or both, here are some things to think about.

Listen, reflect and get comfortable being uncomfortable

A good place to start is to educate yourself. Start by listening to other people, reading, and sharing resources. Understanding and unwinding the systems and histories that have led us here threatens to destabilize the world that many people know. It is not easy and will be uncomfortable. If your first reaction is to get angry and deny other people’s experience – acknowledge that. Sit with it. Try to understand why it is so uncomfortable. Don’t shy away from it. Being uncomfortable and challenged is a big part of the process.

Understand your scope of influence

No organization lives in a vacuum. Racism and prejudice are overarching. But to be effective, organizations, especially smaller ones, have to be clear about their scope of influence. What does the organization have control over? Where does the organization have expertise? In what environments does the organization have power? Companies in the mining sector have control over:

  • Employment practices, including training, recruiting, hiring, and promotions;
  • Their approach to community relations and commitments related to land use;
  • Their management of social and environmental impacts, which can have a disproportionally negative impact on racialized groups;
  • Their supply chain, specifically what requirements are put into contracts; and
  • The partnerships they choose to support with educational institutions and civil society organizations.

White people have to be part of the work

Being anti-racist is not only a job for Black, Indigenous or other people of colour. In order to take this seriously and be effective, all people, including White people, have to be part of the work. It’s not up to Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people to fix the problem. BUT (and this is a major but) White people have to make space for Black, Indigenous and other people of colour to lead, to share, and to be taken seriously. It’s a line between listening and providing space for Black and other racialized employees to participate and not making them responsible for systemic changes and for educating people.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are an important way of understanding the lived experience of the workforce, but they can’t be the sole resource that drives anti-racism work. This is a very different conversation for people with lived experience of racism. Sharing your lived experience with colleagues and peers can be an incredibly exhausting and challenging experience. People who participate in ERGs need to be given the time, space and resources to participate.

Understand the link to mining activity

Racism and prejudice touch every part of our society. They are overarching and no sector is immune. Anti-racism is particularly relevant to the mining sector because:

  • The natural resource sector has played a historical and ongoing role in supporting and benefiting from racist economic policies and land access practices. Resource extraction drove colonialist policies and has had a lasting effect on land ownership and access, Indigenous Peoples economic and cultural practices and Canada’s economic and political systems (see the 2019 Land Back report by the Yellowhead Institute).
  • The mining sector is one of Canada’s largest employers. In 2016, the sector represented 21% of Canada’s workforce, but only 9% identified as a visible minority. The mining industry is one of the largest employers of Indigenous People in Canada, representing 7% of the mining workforce in 2016. This number hides the lack of diversity in management roles however, and should be higher given the effect and proximity of mining on Indigenous communities.
  • The social and environmental impacts from mining activity have disproportionate impacts on racialized groups, in particular Indigenous People. This can include the experience people have as employees, decisions made about hiring and procurement that disadvantage racialized groups, and the failure to protect cultural heritage such as the Juukan Gorge explosion in Australia this past May.

Don’t silo the discussion

Diversity and inclusion have been a priority for leading companies in the mining industry for over decade. Anti-racism is an important, but often ignored, part of diversity and inclusion work. Anti-racism should be central to an organization’s work on diversity and inclusion, including:

  • Awareness and education. Learn and share resources about what racism is, where it comes from and how it is perpetuated (explicitly and implicitly). Develop resource lists for your staff, management and other stakeholders. Make it mandatory to participate in anti-racism or intercultural awareness training – Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) just published a new training program that is free for the next year.
  • Systems and process change (recruitment, hiring, and promotions, land agreements, expectations and commitments to managing environmental and social impacts). Work with an expert to dissect the company’s operations and understand how they can or do support anti-racism.
  • Culture change. Preventing both covert and overt experiences with racism and creating a space where people feel comfortable bring their full self to work.

Put your money where your mouth is

Work with an expert and pay people for their time. The average person is not an expert in anti-racism work or even diversity and inclusion. There is a difference between someone who has lived experience and one who has studied organizational change and psychology. Find an organization to help support this process and pay them as you would any other consultant.

You’re not alone

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes reconciliation as “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. For that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.” Recognizing that change must begin internally is difficult for both resource companies and individuals. There are signs of movement in the industry though, such as from Suncor, which acknowledges it needs to “change the way we think and act.” Suncor is also one of the few companies to make a statement about anti-Black racism.

Use this moment to build relationships and drive this discussion with your peers, partners, community partners and Indigenous groups. You’re not alone in this. This moment is an opportunity to shift the industry. We hope we look back in 10 years and see this as a line in the sand.

CAROLYN BURNS and JANE CHURCH are co-founders of NetPositive, a non-profit that works with diverse stakeholders to help local communities see sustained positive outcomes from mining.

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