Mining companies and aboriginal communities need strong relationships if both are to benefit
Between an increase in mining exploration work and development of a potential liquefied natural gas export industry, British Columbia’s First Nations are heavily engaged in consultations over resource projects in the province.
It puts the First Nations Energy and Mining Council, an aboriginal-created advisory body, in an important position at a critical time for aboriginal communities, both in terms of managing the impact of resource projects and realizing benefits.
“We need (the council),” said Ed John, Grand Chief of the B.C. First Nations Summit, “otherwise we don’t have the wherewithal.”
John said First Nations appoint experts to engage with governments, based on the direction of aboriginal leaders, on issues related to legislation and policy.
The council doesn’t negotiate with government, John said, but can offer advice to the First Nations contemplating development, or worried about development.
“We have very limited capacity, for sure,” John said, “but given the small capacity it’s been working relatively well, particularly on the LNG side.”
One issue John said government needs to address is the cumulative impact of the increasing number of resource projects being proposed for Northern B.C. At the same time, he said, the province needs to support First Nations in the creation of wider-scale land-use planning to “provide First Nations with the tools to make appropriate decisions” regarding specific projects.
John said many aboriginal people are working with the exploration companies in their territories and see potential opportunities to strike joint ventures or partnerships.
“Our people and our communities need training,” John said, “and our people need jobs, absolutely.”
Mining is the B.C.’s biggest private sector employer of aboriginal people, said Gavin Dirom, CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C.
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