• By: OLM Staff

We Need Action On Land Claims And We Need It Now

Canada’s mining industry offers major opportunities for First Nations peoples. We are the larg-est industrial employer of Aboriginal peoples. We double the national aver-age, while some mines have Aboriginal workforces that are 30-40 percent Ab-original or even higher. And these are good paying jobs. The average income of Aboriginal people in mining is twice the national Aboriginal average.

Aboriginal business procurement is also high. In just five years, for example, Diavik Diamond Mines purchased over $1 billion in goods and services from Aboriginal-owned companies. Cameco and Syncrude have also achieved this $ billion milestone, albeit over a longer time frame. This is what is happening. But there is much more our sector can do — with the right public policy framework. 1,200 Aboriginal communities are located within 200 km of producing mines and 2,100 exploration properties across Canada.

For our industry facing a major human resources shortage and in a period of tremendous growth, First Nations are critical to our future. First Nations youth represent the fastest growing population in Canada. By working to enhance access to training and education, the mining industry can complement federal investments in these areas. We can be a critical partner in the economic and social development of First Nations communities. But many hurdles remain.

Mining and exploration increasingly takes place on traditional Aboriginal lands. In many parts of Canada, land claims remain unsettled. In these circumstances, it is much more difficult for industry to negotiate agreements with Aboriginal communities, to navigate the regulatory process and to advance new projects. At times, these underlying conditions undermine our ability to come to agreements, to partner, to develop together.

Not surprisingly, for many First Nations, respect and recognition of their rights and secure tenure are preconditions for their support for and interest in natural resource development on their traditional lands. We need only look at the pipeline negotiations and some recent controversies between First Nation communities and exploration projects to see what can happen when rights are not recognized and land claims are not settled.

No one — not First Nations, not industry, not governments — benefit from conflicts such as we have seen. What is in the collective interests of First Nations and the minerals industry are the kinds of industry/Aboriginal collaboration and agreements we see involving mine developments such as Diavik, Voisey’s Bay, with the oil sands miners, with Cameco in Saskatchewan, with the Victor and Musselwhite mines in Ontario and at many other operations across Canada.

These outcomes are achieved through dialogue and respect, not the courts and not through conflict. We encourage the government to acknowledge the rights and interests that First Nations have and to move forward on this basis. We can no longer delay. We need action on land claims and we need it now In areas of high mineral interest, such as the NWT, the settlement of comprehensive land claims is urgent. Major claims such as the Deh Cho and Akaitcho require resolution.

A related issue is the Crown’s duty to consult. While our industry recog-nizes that it is good practice to consult and accommodate Aboriginal communities, industry actions are not a proxy for the Crown. Exploration and mining projects have been held up or jeopardize because the Crown has been found to not have fulfilled its consultation duties

Supreme Court of Canada decisions have been clear about the Crown’s role in consulting with Aboriginal peoples where rights may be infringed upon. We need governments to do their duty, clarify and implement its consultation obligations and thus provide industry and First Nations with certainty with respect to resource development. We, at MAC, recognize that we too must do our part.

Our Board has adopted a draft policy that lays out the industry’s commitments towards Aboriginal Peoples through our award winning Toward’s Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. We are presently consulting on this policy with First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and organizations across this country. We have been aided in our work by a national advisory panel that includes representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit organizations and Metis organizations, organized labour, the Canadian Environmental Network, mining municipalities and the financial sector. A primary focus of the panel’s work over the past few years has been on Aboriginal relations.

MAC has also signed a Letter of Intent with the Assembly of First Nations to enter into a partnership to address issues of mutual concern. The Letter of Intent will lead to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organizations and will contribute to increased First Nations participation in Canada’s mining industry.

This new partnership would have been inconceivable for both our organizations a decade ago. It shows how times have changed, how we are changing and we need governments to change with us.