Mining sector supports First Nations – by Pierre Gratton and Tom Ormsby (Saskatoon StarPhoenix – December 16, 2011)

Gratton is president CEO of the Mining Association of Canada and Ormsby is director of external & corporate affairs at De Beers Canada. A recent StarPhoenix editorial reflected on the mining boom underway in Saskatchewan and the need for the mining sector to partner with Canada’s First Nations. We couldn’t agree more.

For evidence that the mining sector understands this fully, one need look no further than Cameco, the world’s largest uranium miner headquartered in Saskatoon, to find the company with the largest number of First Nations employees in Canada.

In fact, there are now close to 200 agreements between mining companies and aboriginal communities across Canada. These typically include hiring targets, business opportunities and training, financial compensation and other components to ensure that local aboriginal communities are primary beneficiaries of mining developments that occur on their traditional lands.

One such agreement exists between De Beers Canada and Attawapiskat First Nation. The same editorial stated that, “Attawapiskat is situated near a diamond mine, but the locals haven’t been able to get much advantage from that development,” and that “The mining company complains people aren’t qualified for the kind of workforce needed in the mine.” Both statements simply are untrue.

The Victor Mine is a remote fly-in/fly-out open-pit mine located 90 kilometres from Attawapiskat, only accessible by land between 40 and 60 days each year via a seasonal winter road. The Attawapiskat First Nation is the priority community for the variety of benefits that flow from the construction and operation of the mine.

These benefits and commitments are laid out in a comprehensive formal Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) that was negotiated over a three-year period before the community ratified it in November 2005. This IBA is similar to agreements De Beers Canada has with seven other First Nation communities in Canada.

Since the start of the Victor Mine’s construction, more than $325 million in contracts have been awarded to businesses either wholly or jointly owned by Attawapiskat. That number has been rising each year as the community’s business capacity grows.

So far this year, $51 million in contracts have been awarded to Attawapiskat, which exceeds the total for 2010. The community reached a new milestone this year when it took on the entire contract to provide camp services at the mine. These contracts are over and above the scheduled direct financial payments outlined in the IBA.

The mine has approximately 500 full-time permanent employees, of whom 100 are Attawapiskat band members involved in all aspects of the operation, including mining, processing, maintenance, protective services, administration and safety, health and environment.

For the rest of this article, please go to the StarPhoenix website: