Aboriginal sessions popular at PDAC convention – by Glenn Nolan (Onotassiniik Magazine – Summer 2013)

OnotassiniikWawatay’s Mining Quarterly, sets out to provide knowledge and information about the mining industry in northern Ontario to First Nations communities, individuals and leaders throughout the region.

Glenn Nolan is the President of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada

In the last decade, positive relationships have grown between Aboriginal communities and the mineral exploration and development industry. I am a member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation in northern Ontario. My father worked at a nearby mine. I saw first-hand the benefits of this important industry, not only in my own life, but in the lives of my community members.

Since that time, the awareness by industry about what should be done to engage communities in a proactive and respectful way has grown tremendously, and that is very encouraging. We have made progress; more than 200 agreements have been signed between mining companies and Aboriginal communities in Canada. These projects range from grassroots exploration activities to producing mines across the country, with many resulting in employment and business opportunities for local Aboriginal communities. This is an exciting time for our communities, and for this sector.

As president of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), I am pleased to be in this role at such a dynamic time for our industry. I believe there is tremendous opportunity for Aboriginal communities and companies to work together in a respectful and collaborative manner.

Recognizing the importance of positive, trusting relationships between companies and communities, PDAC created an Aboriginal affairs committee in 2004 to examine community engagement practices and support Aboriginal participation in the mineral industry. Since 2008, PDAC has had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in place with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) that established commitments to work together on regular dialogue between the mineral sector and our communities, collaborate on human resource initiatives and co-operate on public policy issues of mutual interest. One of the ways PDAC has been promoting greater Aboriginal participation is through our Aboriginal program at the annual PDAC convention.

The Aboriginal program at this year’s convention once again proved to be a great success, drawing large crowds comprised of industry and Aboriginal community members. The program provided a platform for discussion on fostering mutually co-operative, respectful and successful relationships between Aboriginal communities and the mineral industry.

A highlight of the program, the Aboriginal forum, showcased models for partnerships and Aboriginal participation in the mineral industry. Following opening remarks from Bob MacLeod, premier of the Northwest Territories, and Greg Rickford, member of Parliament for Kenora, this year’s forum featured a presentation by Steven Nitah from the Lutsel K’e Dene Nation, who shared the community’s experience with building relationships with companies operating in its traditional territory. The forum also included a case history of the Denedeh Investments Corporation and a presentation on how to engage with Métis communities.

Continuing on the success of last year, the sessions had standing room only. Overall topics centred on engagement, the government’s duty to consult, and agreements between companies and Aboriginal communities. Speakers from across Canada, including Shawn Batise of the Wabun Tribal Council, Ginger Gibson representing the TliCho Government, and Todd Russell from the NunatuKavut Community Council, offered unique insights to evolving engagement practices, enterprises that flow from company-community agreements and some of the capacity challenges that communities face throughout the consultation process.

Other key highlights included the presentation of PDAC’s Skookum Jim Award, given this year to Windigo Catering in recognition of its involvement in the mineral industry. The Aboriginal technical session featured discussions on building capacity for economic independence, new community engagement practices, and negotiating impact and benefit agreements that lead to a positive legacy for communities.

In addition to the Aboriginal program at the convention, PDAC’s Aboriginal affairs department undertakes initiatives and activities to promote greater understanding and co-operation between Aboriginal communities and the mineral industry in Canada. While advocating for policy, such as government resource revenue sharing and the resolution of land claims, PDAC participates in conferences and meetings central to Aboriginal issues in Canada. The development of research and tools such as the Exploration and Mining Guide for Aboriginal Communities is also an integral element of the department.

Across our industry we see jobs without people in regions where there are people without jobs. There is a natural fit for Aboriginal people to fill that gap, become industry specialists, as well as develop businesses to service mineral exploration and development projects. I envision a future in which communities take ownership of exploration programs, hire their own people and secure licences to develop projects. When such a vision becomes a reality, the PDAC Aboriginal affairs committee will have fulfilled its mandate. Until then, there is more work to be done.