“One window” consultation [Wabun Tribal Council] provides certainty for miners – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – January 7, 2013)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business ianross@nob.on.ca.

Shawn Batise favours the “one window approach” when it comes to doing business with exploration firms. The executive director of the Timmins-based Wabun Tribal Council spearheaded the development of a tried-and-true method that enables six First Nation communites to share in the mineral wealth from Treaty 9.

“Our communities are business-minded and know how to approach a development,” said Batise, a graduate of the Haileybury School of Mines and a former mechanical engineering technologist who worked at Detour Lake mine.

Batise handles the negotiations for mining and hydro-electric agreements on behalf of the six communities that make up the tribal council: Beaver House, Brunswick, Chapleau Ojibwe, Matachewan, Flying Post and Mattagami.

The Wabun traditional territories take in a wide swath of northeastern Ontario that includes the major gold and base metal mining and exploration camps in Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Matachewan and Gogama. Batise said their Wabun Resource Development Model is all about “creating certainty” for both industry and communities.

To date, the council has signed three impact benefit agreements (IBAs) and more than 15 exploration agreements over five years of negotiations, with many more in the pipeline.

“Every company we’ve dealt with is open to discussing an (exploration) agreement. We’re trying to standardize it. I think it’s the way to go. It’s not onerous; it provides certainty for both sides on moving forward.”

Because of the “sea change” with new regulations in Ontario’s Mining Act that requires more active consultation by mining companies and prospectors with First Nations, Batise expects as many 40 to 50 exploration agreements at some point.

The model was introduced six years ago when surging gold prices created some robust exploration activity in the northeast. Some communities were unable to deal with the pace and Wabun took charge by devising a model for the communities to follow.

They decided it was time to digitally draw lines on a map to show industry and government the areas of overlapping territorial claims.

“It was a tough sell (in the communities) to draw lines on a map,” said Batise. “That’s the European way of doing things. Here’s my boundary and my private property, don’t come on. That’s not what we’re about. We still don’t like it, but we have to.”

The communities will not identify the location of sensitive cultural sites on public documents, but they will orally tell industry and government stakeholders of areas that are not to be disrupted.

Batise said he’s not encountered any company that’s refused to sign on.In a standardized exploration agreement, a percentage of a company’s exploration costs are set aside for legal, technical, archaelogical and environmental peer reviews of a project. There is also an industry commitment for local education, training provisions and an IBA, if there’s a mine.

“For our First Nations, we recognize the investors have to make money, otherwise there’s no investment and no project. We don’t support projects blindly. There has to be environmental responsibility, but we do recognize that at the early stage of exploration that it’s all money out the door.

“We’re not asking for $2 million or $3 million while a junior exploration company is trying to raise money. Our agreements at the early stage speak to what would be negotiated if it’s a successful venture and becomes a mine; then our expectations are different and so is the impact.”

Wabun in negotiating with Iamgold for an IBA after acquiring Trelawney Resources.

Batise asks that Wabun members be given first crack at jobs and service contracts, but there is no labour force percentage cap on hiring Aboriginal workers imposed on companies.

The tribal council runs a very successful camp logistics and site servicing company, provides camp catering, and runs an explosives business. It welcomes the opportunity for joint ventures.