The essential role of Indigenous collaboration in mining

Photo credit: Agnico Eagle Mines – Meliadine mine / by Mathieu Dupuis

Submitted by the Mining Association of Canada 

More than any other sector, the mining industry has prioritized building and maintaining respectful, strong, trusting partnerships with Indigenous communities – First Nation, Inuit and Métis – impacted by, or with an interest in, mineral exploration and mining activities.

From exploration to mine closure, the mining sector engages with communities impacted by their projects in order to share information, collaborate on issues related to environmental effects, monitoring, and cultural protection. The industry also focuses on developing mutually beneficial partnerships and initiatives that generate economic opportunities and wealth for surrounding communities. 

The sector further supports Indigenous participation through training, business development, employment, social investments, and procurement. For example, in 2019 Suncor spent $836 million with Indigenous businesses and suppliers and Teck Resources’ operations spent approximately $225 million with suppliers who self-identified as Indigenous. 

As a result of its efforts, the mining industry has become the largest private-sector industrial employer, on a proportional basis, of Indigenous peoples in Canada and a trusted partner of Indigenous businesses. Since 2000, over 490 agreements have been signed between mining and exploration companies and Indigenous communities or governments and our industry is a leader in advancing economic reconciliation.

Towards sustainable mining

Mining Association of Canada (MAC) member commitments to ongoing engagement and respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples are further demonstrated through participation in Towards Sustainable Mining® (TSM).

TSM is a globally recognized program that supports mining companies in managing key environmental and social risks and was the first mining sustainability standard in the world to require site-level assessments. TSM is mandatory for all MAC members’ Canadian operations and includes facility-level performance in the area of Indigenous and community relationships.

Transparency is essential to the credibility of the TSM program, and to that end the initiative is overseen by a Community of Interest advisory panel, which consists of individuals from Indigenous organizations and governments, environmental organizations, labour representatives, individuals involved in finance, local mining communities, social and faith-based organizations, academics, and those involved in international development.

MAC members have been reporting on their facility-level community engagement performance since 2004, when TSM was first introduced. In 2019, this component of TSM was significantly enhanced when MAC adopted the TSM Indigenous and Community Relationships Protocol, the first known concrete effort on the part of a Canadian industrial sector to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action directed at corporate Canada, developed with the guidance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). It truly raises the bar for the Canadian mining industry’s collaboration and engagement with Indigenous communities.

The new protocol demonstrates that the principles of the UN Declaration are core to strong facility-community relationships and sets a bar for good practice that includes striving to achieve free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for new projects or expansions for impacts on rights of directly affected Indigenous peoples before proceeding with development. Commitments to collaborate with communities, including in the management of mining-related impacts and benefits and co-developed engagement processes, have been strengthened in the protocol. 

Additionally, the protocol addresses the TRC’s Call to Action 92 iii, which calls for the corporate sector to provide education and skills-based training for managers and staff in areas such as Indigenous history and intercultural competency. While public reporting against the updated protocol is not scheduled to begin until next year, many MAC members have taken proactive steps to implement this new aspect of the protocol. For example, approximately 1,150 people at Teck Resources’ sites attended cultural awareness training in 2019. Suncor offers its online Indigenous awareness training, focused on raising awareness about the history, experiences and cultures of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and changing perceptions, to the public, free of charge.  

Programming designed to encourage Indigenous peoples in mining

According to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), Indigenous people represented more than seven per cent of the mining workforce in Canada in 2016, up from roughly five per cent in 2011. Indigenous peoples are better represented in the mining industry (7.4 per cent) than in all other industries (3.9 per cent) and the share of the mining workforce that is Métis nearly doubles the share found in all industries.

A critical challenge is to ensure that Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the Canadian workforce and are provided with training and educational opportunities to advance and thrive. Fortunately, the mining industry has proven an effective vehicle not just for Indigenous employment, but also for skills training and upward mobility. For example, Indigenous people in the mining workforce are increasingly pursuing formal education credentials. According to 2019 MiHR research, in 2006, 30 per cent had no certificate, diploma or degree; by 2016, that rate fell to 22 per cent. From 2006 to 2016, the share of Indigenous people in the mining workforce with a college, CEGEP, or other non-university certificate or diploma rose by three percentage points, as did the rate for those with a university certificate, diploma, or degree at bachelor level or above. 

Programming designed to encourage greater participation of Indigenous peoples in the mining sector also plays an important role, and to that end MiHR offers a pre-employment training program, Mining Essentials, for Indigenous peoples who are interested in a career in mining. This program teaches both the essential skills and work readiness skills necessary to gain employment in the Canadian mining industry and was created to help companies and communities meet joint hiring and employment targets. Mining Essentials allows companies to benefit from a local, skilled, and safety-conscious workforce that also fosters economic development, resulting in healthier communities.
 
Potential for increased Indigenous employment remains strong. Some 180 producing mines and more than 2,500 exploration properties are located within 200 kilometres of Indigenous communities. Also, many mines and projects are located on traditional lands. Indigenous peoples across the country are, therefore, ideally situated to access employment opportunities (and other benefits) in the mining industry.

Over 16,500 Indigenous peoples are employed by Canada’s mining sector, representing 12 per cent of the industry’s labour force – three times the average industry rate.
 
Resources dedicated to the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the mining sector 

Several organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, the Waubetek Business Development Corporation and the recently established Centre of Excellence for Indigenous Minerals Development, focus on business development and supporting initiatives that promote professional opportunities in the mining sector. These initiatives, and others like them at the company level, are dedicated to furthering the relationship between industry and Canada’s Indigenous communities. 

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March 1, 2021

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