In building the world’s largest potash mine in Saskatchewan, BHP CEO Mike Henry looks to heal old wounds and pivot the global giant away from oil and gas
Chief Bryon Bitternose was driving north across the Saskatchewan prairie this week toward two white towers that pierce the landscape – twin elevator shafts that mark the site of what will soon be the world’s largest potash mine. He took a phone call and started laughing.
The source of his amusement? Being asked to sketch the George Gordon First Nation’s history with Melbourne-based global commodities giant BHP Group Ltd. BHP-N, owner of the Jansen mine taking shape near his reserve. Mr. Bitternose chuckled as he said, “The relationship didn’t start real well. We first met in court.”
At that initial encounter, back in 2012, the First Nation sued BHP, the province and the federal government for $10-billion. George Gordon leaders said they were not consulted when regulators approved the miner’s purchase of leases on 10,000 square kilometres of resource-rich property. They wanted a share of the project. In 2020, Saskatchewan’s highest court dismissed the suit.
Mr. Bitternose joined the band council and was named chief six years after the lawsuit was launched. On his watch, the focus shifted from litigation to negotiation. The band opted to put a priority on securing jobs for a community plagued by chronic unemployment, at a mine designed to supply 25 per cent of the world’s potash.
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