The Man In The Middle and The Moose In The Room- Aboriginal Mining: Hans Matthews and CAMA – by David Hicks (The Global Commodities Report – October, 2011)

Published by New Vanguard Media, The Global Commodities Report is a digital magazine about the benefits of resource business.

The Global Commodities Report Interview with Hans Matthews of the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association (CAMA)

Heading into the 19th annual Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association conference, “Meeting Minds, Making Mines”, it’s President, Hans Matthews, sees much done and much to do.


As a Canadian First Nations member and a veteran of the mining industry, Hans Matthews knows the minds of both miners and indigenous peoples. He studied Geology and Earth Sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and the University of Western Ontario in London. During his mining career he worked for companies ranging from juniors to majors such as Sherritt Gordon, Placer Dome, Noranda and Xstrata, doing everything from claim staking to mining to raising capital.

He then created the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association 20 years ago, as a not-for-profit Aboriginal corporation, and moved back to a First Nations Reserve 15 years ago. CAMA’s 19th annual “Meeting Minds, Making Mines” conference is being held in Vancouver, November 6-8, with over 50 corporate sponsors.

The CAMA founder and President spoke with David Hicks, Editor of The Global Commodities Report, from his office just north of Sudbury on the Wahnapitae First Nations Reserve.


The Global Commodities Report: You have a considerable mining career and a First Nations background – how did you come to be a facilitator between them?

Hans Matthews: When the Oka Crisis happened in 1990 in Quebec [a 78-day armed standoff between Mohawk First Nations and the local municipal, Quebec provincial and Canadian federal governments, involving both the provincial police and armed forces, over a proposed land development on disputed lands] I saw how my mining co-workers frowned upon (to put it politely) Aboriginal land interests. They felt like the whole country was going to lose out with mining interests moving away to South America, that the Aboriginal communities were causing uncertainty over lands, and so on.

So in 1991, I contacted some of my native friends who were community leaders and economic development people to see if we could bring the two parties together. We contacted about 350 native communities and asked them to respond to a survey asking if they wanted an organization that would help them work with mining and minerals companies in employment, environment and so on. The response was very positive, so we listened and formed the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association. And we’ve been going strong since.

GCR: With lots still left to do.

HM: Right. Our original business plan was to be out of business, because if everything went well there wouldn’t be a need for a national association, everything would happen locally, everyone would be happy and the world would be a better place to live in. [smiles] But  we are still around.

GCR: Did you have any governmental backing or guidance or input?

HM: No, zero. We vowed not to take a dime of government money or have the government involved in the mandate and administration of the association. At the time, we saw that a lot of community associations depended heavily on government programs. We said, “You know, that is a very inefficient process – why don’t we tackle it at the grass roots level? It’s the companies and the communities who are affected so our objective should be to get those people involved in funding and driving the organization.”

GCR: With membership fees around $50, you’re not exactly on a membership drive.

HM: It just barely covers the cost of stamps and maintaining our website. We knew that communities couldn’t afford a lot and didn’t want them to use monies that could be allocated to social programs or economic programs in order to be a part of us. Our measure of success was how many ‘marriages’ we created. To illustrate, when we started our association there were four or five agreements between the Aboriginal communities and mining companies – today there are close to 200. We are not claiming to be responsible for that, but many Aboriginal communities have told us that we contributed to it.

GCR: How popular is the annual CAMA conference?

HM: Attendance started with 50 people in 1993 and we anticipate over 1,000 this year. Our membership hovers around 300. Our focus is on the conference and the task of bringing the parties together. We have Directors from Quebec to BC, and one in Oklahoma; and work with many communities throughout Canada, in South Africa, Mongolia, Australia, Ecuador and Peru. We are sharing practices around the world.

GCR: Consulting?

HM: Yes. In our travels, we are quickly learning that Communities around the world have the same needs, and so do mining companies whether it be certainty and security of investment or access to resources or shareholder value, whatever. The communities generally want a legacy for their children, a really strong youth component and a focus on future generations, as well as safe drinking water, safe  environment, infrastructure and such. We can say, “While Canada is still far from perfect, this approach has worked well in Canada.”

Just a few months ago we were in Mongolia and the herders and communities were amazed at the similarities, even in some of the cultural aspects, between Canadian Aboriginal groups and Mongolian herders. And then the same in Australia.

GCR: With concrete results from your input?

HM: Oh, yes. For example, a South African company flew people from a local community to Northern Ontario to visit other communities to see what they are doing; and also company executives were coming into communities to see what was going on. You know it’s not a costly thing, it provides certainty, including for shareholders, and they see that for the amount of effort, time and money it’s worthwhile. That was the idea for Annual conferences, as these facilitated ongoing dialogue for international communities and companies.

GCR: On your website you talk about “moving from consultation to consent.” Is there a next phase that you are moving towards from consent?

HM: The word “consent” comes from different contexts. The most recent UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples contains articles for the free, prior and informed consent of communities on resource projects. Not just consultation. The regional use of the word consent comes from what was implied or documented in the negotiation of [Canadian] treaties where there was a spirit of a nation-to-nation relationship, mutual consent of the parties to share. At a local level, many communities now see Impacts/Benefits Agreements between themselves and mining companies as a form of consent. That’s where our organization plays a role as an instrument of consent.

GCR: Sounds like a moving target.

HM: It can be. One of the interesting things about the Canadian and Australian legal systems is that it continues to evolve in response to the Supreme Court. In many cases when there is a Supreme Court decision in favor of an Aboriginal group, or against, it often has an impact on policy regulation and eventually statutory changes. You might be aware that the Government of Ontario has recently proposed changes to the Mining Act, which is statutory – the references to Aboriginal “consultation” increased ten-fold in the latest version, versus the old version. It will be interesting to see the next chapter in community and mining industry relations when references are made to “consent” in the UN declaration.

GCR: Did Canada actually sign that? I thought we were holdouts.

HM: Yes, Canada just signed on November of last year. About a week after our last conference. There may be another, I believe New Zealand,  hasn’t so far because they have their own unique situation with the Maori.

GCR: What ongoing issues are primary at this point in terms of either economic opportunity or environment? It tends to come down to those two things, right?

HM: Yes, though the larger issues are land issues and within that there are land titles, access to lands, ownership of lands, loss of land, loss of use of land… A big one in Canada is outstanding land claims – there are well over a thousand now. When we started the Mineral Association there were maybe a couple of hundred. This creates a sense of uncertainty for both parties.

There are other issues in the North relating to resource development projects around other types of land claims such as Specific and Treaty Land Entitlement where lands that were supposed to have being given to, or attached to, or awarded to a tribe or a band of Indians as part of their reserve were not given. For example, there are treaty land entitlement formulas where the government may have failed to add lands as reserve populations grew (acreage per family) and other kinds of treaty land entitlements. Miss-measurement of reserves and other land claims are present in Northern Ontario, Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Alberta and elsewhere. How the Crown [federal government] reacts or how quickly the Crown negotiates can frustrate the community as well as industry.

Our role as CAMA is to try, without prejudice and with the acknowledgement of these claims, to still get on with business. Can we proceed with development without derogation and delegating from Aboriginal rights and titles?

GCR: You moved back to the Reserve. Did you grow up on the Reserve?

HM: No, my family grew up on Reserve, but I lived down in Toronto. Then I moved back to the Reserve and saw a great opportunity. Wahnapitae First Nation is surrounded by mining companies so our community currently has about six or seven agreements now with mining companies. Through our arrangement with mining companies, we are fortunate that our unemployment rate is close to zero and our revenues from mining are quite significant so we don’t have to go cap in hand to government.

GCR: So independence from government, is that a goal?

HM: For many communities, that is an objective but keep in mind, community leaders will assert that the government does have a duty to the community. After all, in my treaty area for example, there were millions of acres taken away at $4 per person a year annuity. In the Sudbury area alone mining has generated over $150 billion in revenue at today’s metal prices [and a significant tax for governments] and for the communities in this treaty area it has generated nothing. So do Aboriginal communities really want to let the government off the hook?

GCR: You have this perspective having worked with companies both large and small in various places, so you’ve lived the corporate side of the business as well. You’re bringing that mix, not just advocating for First Nations people but understanding the sensitivities, the needs and even the blind spots on the corporate side.

HM: That’s right, I was in senior positions with these mining companies before leaving the industry and I have a good understanding of the challenges – including such things as raising capital, initial public offerings, and the limitations on spending exploration funds because of tax deductions, and the importance of shareholder communication, public relations and so on. So I feel comfortable in sitting down with any mining CEO to discuss how his/her company’s needs can be met by working with Aboriginal communities.

GCR: How do you find you’re received on the corporate side?

HM: There is a two-edged sword there: the other question is how I’m perceived in the Aboriginal community. Because they equally could look at me and say, “You are pro-mining because you’re a geologist.” The mining company could say, “You live in a Native community and you run an Aboriginal resources association so you’re obviously siding for the Aboriginal people.” What I say is, “Take a look at our twenty-year track record, talk to any of those companies, or any of those communities.”

GCR: We interview a lot of companies and it seems like they are “getting it.” Do you think so?

HM: The parallel concept is like in the ’60’s and ’70’s: as a mining company, environment management was something you did it or didn’t do. You might design your project or tailings ponds or water crossings so you wouldn’t have an impact on the environment, but you didn’t have to. And it is almost the same approach today with Aboriginal participation – there is no big hockey stick telling mining companies you must go talk to those communities. There are some provinces now requiring mining companies to consult in order to get their permits, mostly as a way of helping the government meet its own duty to consult, with very little to do with the obligations of the mining company in a practical sense.

But it gets serious. For example, we helped one mining company who acquired a project for several billions of dollars, and for every year of delay due to the non-settlement of a land claim (delays in permitting), it cost that company $100 million. We provided a liaison to firstly change the federal land negotiations team and secondly, to carry on with negotiations toward an Impacts/Benefits Agreement.
Or for junior companies that have to spend their flow-through share funds by February of the following year – if they’re kept from spending it, then the tax benefit doesn’t accrue to the shareholder.

We are at a threshold now where mining companies are actually putting a cost/benefit analysis to working with Aboriginal communities. And the Canada Revenue Agency pre-approves expenses allocated for Aboriginal consultation, which affects flow-through shareholders.

So it’s not just a CAMA or a mining company or a Supreme Court of Canada but it is everyone now who is saying, “Alright, lets take a real look at this Aboriginal engagement issue.”

GCR: You have helped bring things this far where has been a shift in the mindset on the corporate side, communities are starting to get agreements and see benefits. What do you see as the task ahead? More of the same, or something different?

HM: I don’t think the land claim picture is ever going away soon. It’s like the elephant in the room – or up here they call it the moose in the room. Depending on how the Federal Government develops policy, it could get even more aggravated. There are going to be some test cases like the Ring of Fire mineral region in Northern Ontario and many more.

GCR: Are you optimistic?

HM: That’s like asking me, If two people meet on a blind date, will they leave holding hands? I don’t know. While the community and mining company have a desire to have a relationship, there may be circumstances beyond the influence and control of the parties.

GCR: What about willingness on the community side, do you see an issue where they need to come around?

HM: In response many communities are increasing their level of technical awareness. For example, [miners] are considering constructing a processing facility in our traditional territory, 20 km north of my community. From our community skills base and experience in mining, our band is in a much better position because we have four environmental Master’s students on our staff, I’m a geologist, we have full GIS (geographic information system) programming and mapmaking, and we have botanists and other expertise. So we can say to the mining company, “Feed us whatever information you want, whether it’s a 10-page document or something a metre thick, we will review it.”

Many communities don’t have those resources. What would you think if a mining company came to a neighbourhood in Burlington or Montreal and said, “Here’s 10 boxes of a report – could you get back to us in 30 or 45 days with your comments?”

Communities need more expertise, considering that more than 40% of the 2,000-or-so reserves in Canada are within 200 km of a past mine or producing mine. Which is why profits from the CAMA conference go to build the needed skills in Aboriginal communities through contributions to local colleges, universities or Aboriginal students.

Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association