Native communities playing catch-up [in mining sector] – by Ryan Lux (Timmins Daily Press – October 26, 2011)

The Daily Press, the city of Timmins newspaper.

Chiefs say they could have benefited from information offered at summit

When Detour Mine initiated talks to re-start operations in Mattagami First Nation territory, Chief Walter Naveau says the band lacked the expertise to properly engage in those early negotiations. Naveau said the community leader would have benefited from the type of information being offered at this week’s Mining Ready Summit.

First Nation leaders from across the Northeast along with mining company representatives have gathered in Timmins for two days to share expertise and collaborate on the future of resource development in traditional territories.

Looking back, Naveau said, “Initially, we were in a place where we weren’t too sure what was happening in terms of duty to consult. Then we started looking to our treaty rights and spoke with lawyers and consultants.”

He said it has been hard to keep up with the pace of development when his community started off with a deficit of mining knowledge.

“We have been catapulted into this area by surprise.”

Last time there was mining in the Mattagami First Nation’s traditional territory, there wasn’t the same kind of Aboriginal engagement as there is today. Thanks to a Supreme Court Ruling, companies are now obliged to consult.

“Before, a winning situation didn’t include First Nations and today it does,” said Naveau. “We are becoming part of mainstream society now where First Nations can contribute to the economy rather than being perceived as dependent on social assistance.”

But, participation has meant his people have had to master foreign skill sets.

“Sometimes you have to think like a white man when you’re walking in a white man’s world.”

Naveau said it’s only possible to maintain their traditional culture if they can evolve with the times.
“You can’t be stuck in one place. There are now businesses we want to establish so that our youth can flourish and be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Despite difficulties at the outset of their relationship with Detour, in terms of gaining mining sector literacy, Naveau said the development has been positive for his community.

“We’re doing quite well. We have something in the bank and I think it’s going to grow. But it can only get better if we do our homework,” Naveau said.

“Being a chief today is a business. It’s not a popularity contest anymore.”

Moose Cree First Nation Chief Norman Hardisty, who was one of the speakers at the summit, said his community is still reeling from their overwhelming introduction to the mining sector.

Since 2007, the Moose Cree have signed three agreements with resource developers and with each one, Hardisty said they have learned more about how to negotiate the complex sector.

“We learned over the last four years that if you’re going to depend on your financial resources to get into resource development agreements, somewhere along the way it’s going to affect your organization.”

The lesson he wanted to share with other First Nations is to build financial components into the agreements to ensure financial responsibility falls on the developers’ shoulders.

“Within our agreements we build in revenue components or a portion of shares to recognize they are operating in our territory and there are dues to pay,” said Hardisty.

Mining activity, according to Hardisty, can be a means to an end for First Nations communities.

“No economic base means no self-government.”

For the rest of this article, please go to the Timmins Daily Press website: