CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES: Consulting First Nations first

We at CMJ have written recently about the conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and the mining industry. And we have...
We at CMJ have written recently about the conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and the mining industry. And we have been taken to task by some readers when they think we would further disenfranchise native bands. That has never been our intention. Instead, we have tried to point out how contentious these issues are. To say that a dispute that lands people in jail is "contentious" is an understatement.

Tempers run hot in land use disputes, and sadly the mining industry is being perceived as ignoring the rights of Aboriginal peoples. There are a number of companies, however, working hard to co-operate with rather than confront native groups.

In the past two weeks we have learned of several mineral companies that are taking a pro-active approach to solving land use issues before they become problems.

MARATHON PGM CORP. of Toronto has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the PIC MOBERT FIRST NATION. It outlines the way both parties will co-operate in developing Marathon's copper-PGM mine north of Marathon, Ont. The MOU will also guide consultations as an impact and benefits agreement (IBA) is hammered out. The MOU is a measure of respect between the Pic Mobert and Marathon, as well as positive step toward mine development.

NEW GOLD of Toronto and the Kamloops Division of the SECWEPEMC NATION (comprising the Kamloops Indian Band and the Skeetchestn Indian Band) have signed a participation agreement covering New Gold's New Afton copper-gold project in central British Columbia. The pact provides the First Nation with employment, education, training and business opportunities. That much is standard to all such agreements. On top of that, the agreement calls for the consent of the bands at all phases of the project. That sounds like on-going consultation and co-operation.

NORTHGATE MINERALS of Vancouver has signed a similar MOU with the MATACHEWAN FIRST NATION to facilitate development of Northgate's Young-Davidson gold project near Matachewan, Ont. Again, this document creates a foundation on which to build a mutually beneficial relationship and negotiate an IBA. The IBA will cover employment, training, business opportunities and other benefits for the Matachewan First Nation.

Northgate, readers will remember, recently failed to gain approval for its Kemess North copper project in British Columbia. The denial came in part because significant (meaning adverse) environmental, social and cultural impacts were probable. Aboriginal groups got their points across during hearings, and Northgate ended up writing down the $32 million it had spent on the project at the end of last year.

The thorny question of land use is being addressed on a case-by-case basis, and perhaps that is the way it should be. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the various Nations across Canada.

Miners who welcome Aboriginal consultation at an early stage and who maintain on-going discussion are leading the way.

Contrast that co-operative attitude with the one exhibited by rival bands on opposite sides of the Mt. Milligan copper-gold development proposed by TERRANE METALS of Vancouver. The NAK'AZDLI FIRST NATION claims that the project lies within its traditional territory and wants to stop the mine. The MCLEOD LAKE INDIAN BAND flatly rejects that claim and supports development for its economic benefits. The failure of rival bands to agree on land rights only complicates the mining industry's attempt to reach consensus on any given project.

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