Ontario’s Mining Sector Leads the Way in First Nation Development Partnerships

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

The mining industry in Ontario is leading the way with innovative ideas and agreements which promote sustainable development in Aboriginal communities.  A document produced by Natural Resources Canada titled “Agreements Between Mining Companies and Aboriginal Communities or Governments” shows that 105 agreements have been signed between mining enterprises and Aboriginals.  The document shows that 29 of those agreements are in this province.  Ontario Mining Association member companies have a strong track record for building bridges and working in collaborative partnerships with Aboriginal communities.  

These contracts documented by Natural Resources Canada have been identified and validated by the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Mineral Industry and do not represent an exhaustive list of existing agreements in Canada.  The types of agreements identified range from joint-ventures to impact-benefit agreements to exploration agreements and socio-economic agreements.  At the recent Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association conference in Saskatoon, its President Hans Matthews said there are now more than 120 of these agreements in Canada.

Several examples of mutual benefit and cooperation among OMA members and Aboriginal communities can be found.  The Musselwhite gold mine, in Northwestern Ontario, which opened in 1997, established a creative agreement with a number of First Nations that provides for education, training, employment and business related opportunities in local communities.  Xstrata Nickel and the Wanapitei First Nation reached a mutual benefit agreement concerning the development of the Nickel Rim project in the Sudbury area. 

Mining is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginals in Canada and this number is growing.  It is estimated that Aboriginal workers accounted for 5.3% of the mining workforce in 2001, which is twice the national average and an increase from Aboriginals representing 3.6% of the mining workforce in 1996.  Many mines in Ontario are above this national average.  For example, the Victor diamond mine of De Beers Canada, which is near Attawapiskat, has a close relationship with First Nation communities in the vicinity.  Approximately 140 people, or 40% of the Victor workforce, are Aboriginals.  

One of the reasons Natural Resources Canada adds its disclaimer that its list of 105 agreements is not exhaustive is because new agreements are being worked out on virtually a continual basis.  For example, the source document does not include recent agreements in Ontario.  For example, Lake Shore Gold has signed an agreement with the Flying Post and Mattagami First Nations related to its Timmins West property.  This document establishes a framework for ongoing dialogue and consultation between the parties, including providing business, employment and training opportunities for members of these two First Nations. 

“This agreement is another stepping stone in our development as First Nation people,” said Chief Walter Naveau of the Mattagami First Nation.  “This is a historic period for my people as we are finally able to work with mining companies in a way that benefits us.”  Lake Shore President Tony Makuch said “We look forward to working with the Mattagami and Flying Post First Nations for many years to come as we move Timmins West from exploration/advanced exploration through development and to production.”

The OMA has worked to help First Nations better understand the mineral industry.  With financial assistance from Ontario, through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, and from Ottawa, through FedNor, the OMA produced Mining New Opportunities.  This 14-minute video, which is available in Cree, Oji-Cree, Ojibway, French and English, features Aboriginal people involved in and with the mining industry telling their own stories. 

Many thanks to Natural Resources Canada for producing a document to remind us that the mining industry is working hard to build successful relationships with First Nations across the country and these successes are helping to construct a solid foundation to move forward into the future.