People in First Nations around Timmins are happier, healthier and wealthier because of recent agreements with mining companies, says the head of Wabun Tribal Council.
Wabun is a council of six First Nations, all within about 200 kilometres of Timmins: Beaverhouse, Brunswick House, Chapleau Ojibwe, Flying Post, Matechewan, and Mattagami.
Collectively, these First Nations have signed three impact and benefit agreements (IBAs) with mining companies in the past six years, Shawn Batise, Wabun’s executive director, said at a Mining Ready Summit hosted in Timmins Oct. 16-17 by the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF). Three more IBAs involving Wabun First Nations are currently being negotiated. The agreements cover gold mining properties, plus one nickel property.
Wabun communities have also negotiated 30 mining exploration agreements over the same period, and Batise thinks that number could reach 50 within a year.
“It’s really been in the last five to seven years that things have really taken off,” Batise said of the agreements and resulting participation by Wabun communities in resource development. In large part because of that activity, never before “have I seen such growth in the communities, in terms of wealth, health, better jobs …” he said. “We’ve created a number of businesses servicing the industry that have been very successful.
“I definitely think the tribal council and the communities are a model to hold up for success, and a best practices model.”
That’s what Brian Davey, executive director of NADF, had been hoping for from Batise and other speakers at the third annual Mining Ready Summit.
“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do with respect to wealth generation,” Davey said of First Nations, while welcoming delegates to the summit. “Not all of us have the capacity or the experience, so this is an event to bring us together and see what we can do to share in the development of our success.”
Jason Batise, Shawn’s brother and an economic development advisor for Wabun, provided examples of success.
“I would say that we’re at 100 per cent employment in Matachewan,” he said of his home First Nation.
Later, he showed a photo of a 300-bed mining camp 10 kilometres from Matachewan, currently filled with construction workers developing a nearby AuRico gold mine. Meals are also served for the workers. The camp generates revenue of $20-25 million a year.
In partnership with a Sudbury company, “We, as the First Nation, own that facility,” which can easily be moved, he noted. “That plot of land was just bush when we thought of the idea and got our partner involved.”
Over in Mattagami First Nation, IAMGOLD employs 30 community members for development of its Coté gold project – “an incredible piece of wealth creation for that community,” Jason said. “IAMGOLD has really taken it upon itself to engage the community with important employment targets.”
Wabun insists on resource development agreements for all activities with the traditional territories of its communities, ranging from simple letters of interest – “where we’re asking the early prospectors to simply recognize they’re on our territory,” said Jason – to IBAs. Agreements include advantages for First Nation businesses, such as: bid preferences for companies that demonstrate Aboriginal participation in their tenders to provide mine services; First Nation involvement in the evaluation of tenders; and First Nation opportunities for negotiated contracts with mines.
For exploration, Wabun agreements are generally standardized. “About 75 per cent of them are exactly the same and the ones that are different, there’s very little variance in them,” Shawn said. “We always go to the exploration company and say, ‘Look , here’s our agreement … the property that’s beside you has signed the same agreement, so why shouldn’t you?”
‘Fabulous’ lineup of speakers
In another Mining Ready presentation, Mark Podlasly, a member of the Nlaka’pamux First Nation in B.C. and a senior associate at the Harvard Kennedy School, described the eight components of a mine operation, from discovery to closure. He explained how a “value chain analysis” can help First Nations determine, based on their capacity and goals, what pieces of the operation to target in negotiations with mining companies.
Irene Altiman of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation in Birch Island, Ontario, said afterward she could see the potential for applying such an analysis to a mining strategy her organization is developing. “Some of our communities have signed IBAs with mining companies. In one agreement they looked at employment and training, but they might not have looked at other areas.”
Derek Chum of Moose Cree, CEO of the First Nation’s Amisk Kodim Corporation, shared lessons learned from three major resource agreements Moose Cree negotiated recently, with Ontario Power Generation, De Beers Canada and Detour Gold.
Another Moose Cree member, Leonard Rickard, is manager of Aboriginal Affairs for Detour Gold, which has a mine northeast of Cochrane. He spoke of the opportunities Detour has provided under IBAs with four Aboriginal communities, including equity in the mine, more than $400 million worth of business during its construction, and preferential hiring for mine jobs.
Discussing mining development in the Ring of Fire and related infrastructure were Kaitlyn Ferris, manager of corporate responsibility for Noront Resources; Frank Smeenk and Moe Lavigne, executives for KWG Resources, which proposes a rail line to the region; and keynote dinner speaker Bob Rae, the former politician turned Matawa tribal council negotiator. Scott Carpenter, a board member for Attawapiskat Resources, listened closely to these presentations for potential business opportunities and environmental impacts for his First Nation of Attawapiskat, downriver from the Ring of Fire. At one of several booths at the summit, Attawapiskat Resources promoted its Attawapiskat Security Services business, which already does work for De Beers’ Victor diamond mine.
Other presenters at the summit were Bentley Cheechoo of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, who spoke about political change needed so First Nations can benefit from resource development; Chris Hodgson, president of the Ontario Mining Association; Derek Fox, an NADF board member and law school graduate who talked about the potential for “accredited investors” to fund business startups and junior mining companies; and Kimberly Bird, loans manager at NADF.
“Fabulous choice of speakers,” Andy Fyon, director of the Ontario Geological Survey, told Davey at the end of the summit. “Good job to you, good job to all your staff in the background … fabulous.”