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Mining for inclusivity

The future of reconciliation in mining includes equity stakes, board seats and upward mobility for Indigenous Peoples.

That was one takeaway from this week’s Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada convention, which highlighted companies that are working on ownership structures that include Indigenous communities.

“When you look at the geographic location of where we’re mining, the impact and the land that we’re on, there’s a convergence that’s happening for our people and for this particular sector in mining,” said Fiona Blondin, a KWG Resources board member from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. 

“As a young Indigenous woman … the mining sector looked very different. Twenty-five years later, we’re talking about ownership over talking about employment. This is a transformation that I’m seeing within my generation.” 

The context: The Ontario government’s key EV supply-chain selling point is the rich cache of battery metals in the Ring of Fire region, a 5,000-square-kilometre area about 500 km northeast of Thunder Bay. But in a lawsuit against the province by the Neskantaga First Nation, Indigenous communities have testified that their concerns over the region’s development have been steamrolled

The Chiefs of the Matawa First Nations of Northern Ontario said this week there needs to be a “refocus on how impact and environmental assessments are done in Northern Ontario,” with no resolution in sight for the embattled region. 

The model: Clean Air Metals, one miner focused on the zero-emission-vehicle supply chain, went into its development project 50 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay with the “right attitude” and came out with a “groundbreaking” agreement, according to its First Nations liaison consultant Joe Moses. Frank Hardy, lands and resource coordinator for the Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek First Nation, said the company was able to efficiently coordinate with several First Nations. 

The company has issued warrants to Indigenous stakeholders, a model that Moses said gives them a more affordable and flexible path to ownership of the development. Shannin Metatawabin, the CEO of the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, sits on Clean Air Metals’s board. He said this strategy fits into changing investor expectations on social impact, as baby boomers transfer wealth to millennials, and also reflects the fight to restore the wealth and rights that were stripped from Indigenous people.

Dawn Madahbee Leach, who is on the board of the Centre of Excellence for Indigenous Mineral Development, cited the takeover of Clearwater Seafoods by Premium Brands and a group of Mi’kmaq First Nations as one example of including Indigenous communities in royalty or profit-sharing, and a case study for the mining industry. 

Groups like the Centre of Excellence and First Nations Major Projects Coalition are becoming a central clearinghouse for these types of negotiations, said Madahbee Leach. By sharing strategies or recommending lawyers, these organizations can ensure mining companies are giving Indigenous groups a shot at “free, prior, informed consent.” Metatawabin said another goal is creating a database of Indigenous leaders who are qualified to sit on corporate boards. 

The results: Panellists said factors like executive engagement and Indigenous ownership and representation provide reassurances that the relationships between companies and communities will be stable across generations. “When the First Nations communities in Kamloops had approached me to work with the mining industry, I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” said Martha Manuel, now on the board of Doré Copper. 

“There were going to be some things that I wanted to ensure that I was going to be able to do in that role. The president, the CEO of that company at the time, made himself available right from the onset, and that’s what made a difference to me. … I didn’t want to just sit there in a role within a company. I wanted to move my way up the ladder.” 

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