Scan Canadian news and you’ll see no shortage of stories about conflict between the resource sector and Indigenous peoples over local environmental impacts. And yet, ironically, many of these embattled projects contribute to a global value proposition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050—a goal the world must meet for its own environmental integrity and that is only attainable through technologies that require critical minerals and base metals to work.
Canada is a resource-rich country with a deep commitment to reconciliation and the recognition of Indigenous rights. This venn diagram is critical for our economic future and journey to carbon neutrality, since resources lie underneath Indigenous territories. Mining proponents’ ability to acquire resources is dependent on reconciliation, and the aspiration of reconciliation is defined, in large part, by how these proponents approach accessing resources on Indigenous lands.
So, how can we rethink building trust and wealth to realize our global value proposition as a leading supplier of minerals for the green energy industry?
Recognizing That Consultation Isn’t Partnership
Canada’s current solution to reconciling Indigenous rights with resource development is consultation, the process through which governments in Canada engage with Indigenous peoples on potential infringements to their rights and then create accommodations based on impact. If this system sounds like it’s reactive, that’s because it is. The modern consultation regime emerged from Supreme Court case law and has been criticized for creating unclear expectations around delegation, the roles of industry, moving targets for proponents, and failing to produce relationships by relegating substantive matters for communities to questions of procedure.
Consultation is important to make sure that rights are not being impacted—or, if they are, that it is not without redress—but relationship building requires more proactive approaches that speak to the mutual interests of Indigenous peoples and proponents. While rights and interests interact with one another, they are fundamentally different concepts. Rights are guaranteed freedoms and abilities, and the failure to recognize or respect them almost guarantees conflict, whereas interests are goals and ambitions, and can typically be crafted and achieved in partnership.
At best, consultation can protect communities from losses related to their rights, but interest-based collaboration can actually create value gain. And for Canada to be a lead supplier for the green energy future, the mining sector must first create local value to unlock mining’s global value.