First Nations Must be Involved Early December 18, 2005

If one predominant theme passed the lips of presenters at both the Forest Leadership conference and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention and trade show in Toronto in March, it was First Nations’ inclusion.

There is a trend across Canada, including some rulings by the Supreme Court, gravitating toward First Nations’ involvement with respect to resource development.

In the spirit and intent of negotiations, companies come to the table as equals partners with Aboriginal communities and government officials to discuss prospective timberlands or potential mineral exploration sites. And where the spirit is weak, the law helps it along. Companies refusing to go into discussions with First Nations are encouraged by government officials through the terms and conditions set out in the Environmental Assessment Act. The document binds Ministry of Natural Resources officials to take an interest on behalf of Aboriginal communities. Section 78 of the Mining Act requires the claim holder to notify the surface rights owner of their intention to perform assessment work. Consent must be given from the surface rights owner if prospecting is to occur as indicated in Section 32. At least 24 hours notice to the property owners is required before exploration work can take place on private land. Exploration work may include surface stripping in an area less than one hectare in size or the extraction of 10,000 cubic metres of material.
But First Nations people do not like the idea of being consulted in the advanced exploration stages only, according to consultant Ken Petersen.

“They want to be contacted right at the beginning and I think Ministry of Northern Development and Mines encourages it,” says the principal of Petersen Consulting, who has worked for more than 20 First Nation communities on economic development initiatives in the last 15 years.

The degree of dialog depends on the size and impact of the project, he says. Junior mining companies do not have the financial resources to begin to share the wealth right from the start. Nor are they looking far enough ahead to promise job creation.

“That is when it gets a little uncomfortable,” Petersen says. “That is where the tension comes from.”
Equally, juniors are often not cognizant of the First Nation’s position, he says. The land treaties their ancestors signed were supposed to ensure their communities become equitable partners in land developments.

“Did they really get a fair shake?” Petersen asks. “Did they get fair access to their land? I don’t know.” De Beers Canada went out of their way to cut a deal with First Nations that will be impacted by the Victor project located in Attawapiskat. Placer Dome did the same for its Musselwhite Mine in northwest Ontario. “That is the way business is being done. If you’re going to develop a mine and it is within First Nation territory, you should be talking to them.”
People like Webequie First Nation Councillor Elsie MacDonald have been advised by the elders in her group to work with companies.

“We need to work together to find a way to get mutual benefits,” she says. Her community has adopted a First Nations land policy, which sets out guidelines for land development. In it, they have requested exploration companies use the town amenities, such as hotels and stores, as a base point.
“We are not against development, we just want them to talk to us to create economic development in our territory,” MacDonald says.
As caretakers of the land, it is important to not disturb fishing, hunting and harvesting areas, she says. Equally, it is vital that tradition and culture, including sacred burial grounds, be respected.
When companies negotiate with the community, the band will identify the areas that are off-limits for exploration. In a community where a family of four receives a government cheque averaging $650 each month and the cost of purchasing four litres of milk is $12, white bread $4, and gas close to $2 a litre, the community needs to keep hunting.
“We need to go onto the land to find food,” she says, adding 80 per cent of the community is unemployed.

Petersen has spent this past year negotiating joint ventures for the 27 contracts that came out of the Victor project. “There is a lot more inclusiveness in resource development in Ontario, both north and within the area of the undertaking,” Petersen says.
Companies interested in exploring the North should “contact the Chief and Council to ask for a meeting to talk about setting up some Memorandum of Understanding on what they are going to do and where they are going to go and do it.”

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