TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Engagement and consultation between mining and exploration companies and the First Nations is one of the most pressing issues for the Canadian sector today.
Get it right and a project will move forward more smoothly and with the additional benefit of robust support from aboriginal communities keen to assist in the success; get it wrong and a legal quagmire will almost certainly lay ahead, with project development hindered or even halted. The damage done to the corporate image can also be both lasting and deep.
Some aboriginal communities inherently distrust the industry, pointing to some of the sector’s previous transgressions, while others may simply want to keep their territory free from any development whatsoever.
“Many aboriginal peoples like the remoteness of their communities,” Manitoba East Side Road Authority aboriginal economic development manager Norma Spence told Mining Weekly Online. “A lot of communities have had such bad experiences with the industry in the past that it’s hard for them to believe that nothing bad will happen to their lands.”
Spence is also the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers’ (Cando’s) president and director for Manitoba.
But many other communities welcome mining as an important source of economic development, happy to engage with companies that are willing to listen carefully to their concerns. This is why consultation early and often is essential.
“You have to be involved right from the start and the aboriginal people have to know exactly what you are doing, why you’re doing it, and how they are involved,” Spence said.
“In addition, you can’t say: ‘okay well that’s enough’. You have to keep communicating until a community is happy with what you’re doing,” she explained. “It takes time and can be a long, drawn-out process. But it will save a lot of headaches in the end.”
From the outset, First Nations should have representation at the highest levels when formulating impact benefit agreements, she added.
“The most successful impact benefit agreements are those negotiated with an aboriginal community right from the start,” she said. “And when you’re doing an impact benefit agreement with a community, it can’t be a matter of saying: ‘this is what you are going to get’.”
The absence of strategic planning by some aboriginal communities to outline their approach to natural resources can also prove to be a stumbling block. It is an issue First Nations communities should address if they have not already done so.
“As part of our Cando workshops, we’ve been talking with communities about the importance of having a community strategic plan,” Spence said.
“A community should ask themselves what they want,” she added. “Do you want the community to work with the mining sector? Or does the community have other ideas, such as ecotourism?”
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