Mining’s relationship with First Nations has matured – by Zoe Younger (Vancoucer Sun – June 20, 2013)

Opinion: We see aboriginal people choosing the mining industry and building careers with us

Zoe Younger is vice-president, corporate affairs at the Mining Association of B.C.

As we celebrate National Aboriginal Day across Canada, it is timely to reflect on the evolving relationships between the mining industry and First Nations, in particular with respect to employment in the industry.

With a long history of working together, it is interesting to note how the partnerships between our industry and First Nations have matured, and the mutual respect for each other has deepened. Parallel to the evolving case law that has dictated changes in the regulatory process, and has better defined the relationships between the Crown and First Nations, the mining industry and aboriginal leaders across Canada have been reshaping their own relationships not based on what they have to do, but based on common interests, shared goals and values, and most importantly, communication grounded in mutual recognition and respect.

Aboriginal communities across B.C. have high levels of unemployment, and many of these communities are located in parts of the province that are economically depressed. In particular, rural and remote communities that were once dependent on a thriving forestry sector faced hardships as that industry waned.

Fortunately, many of the aboriginal suppliers and contractors that were working in the forestry sector have been able to adapt their products and services to take advantage of opportunities in the mining industry, and many people transitioned from jobs in forestry to jobs in mining. The mining industry is a stable employer in B.C., with more than 10,000 people directly employed, and more than twice as many spinoff jobs and opportunities created by the industry provincewide.

We see aboriginal people coming into the sector as consultants, engineers, suppliers, environmental technicians, project managers, recruiters and accountants. We see aboriginal employees taking on responsibilities as shift bosses and mine rescue team volunteers — in short, we see aboriginal people choosing the mining industry as an employer of choice and building careers with us. Just five years ago, the Mining Association of BC, along with the Association for Mineral Exploration BC, successfully secured funding from the federal government for the creation of an innovative new organization focused on opportunities for aboriginal people in the mining industry.

With the formation of the independent BC Aboriginal Mine Training Association (BCAMTA) focused on the personal and professional development of aboriginal people, more than 500 candidates have been placed in jobs in the mining industry. A whopping 65 per cent of those candidates placed transitioned from unemployment, and five years in, the program boasts a 93 per cent retention rate. BCAMTA recently won the 2013 BC Mining HR Diversity Award.

As we recognize National Aboriginal Day, so too do we, as an industry, recognize the important contribution that aboriginal people across Canada make to our industry. We also commit ourselves to ongoing reconciliation and open dialogue on how to meet our shared objective of building strong, vibrant, healthy communities and opportunities for success.

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