How Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples Can Change Mining in Canada

How Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples Can Change Mining in Canada.jpg
Written by 
Scott Cavan
Dan Pujdak
February 2022

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.

At best, consultation can protect communities from losses related to their rights, but interest-based collaboration can actually create value gain.

Building Relationships Based on Interests

Partnerships are based on proactivity, which is why exploring interests should start at the beginning of the mining sequence and continue throughout it. This is true for proponents and governments alike, as both yield unique opportunities to create new local value. Being proactive builds trust because it requires transparency, forthcomingness, and faith that prospective partners will engage rationally to achieve positive outcomes.

Also, being proactive creates the time and space necessary for imagining and implementing ideas that create shared value for partners. This is particularly important because, co-ownership and business creation is becoming a new normal for the resource sector. Equity swaps and business creation take time, require foresight and planning, and can only be achieved through partnerships—something that isn’t possible when proponents and governments focus only on consulting Indigenous peoples on impacts to their rights.

The track record for proponents who think big about value creation is strong, which is good news for both their shareholders and for Canada’s ambitions to supply the global transition to clean energy. One need not look further than Raglan Mine in Nunavik, Nechalacho in the Northwest Territories, or Cameco for proof.

Thinking Regionally to Lead Globally

The impacts of mines, both from an environmental and economic point of view,  extend beyond their ring fence. That’s why collaborative partnership-based approaches need to exist at the regional level.

Recently, Coeuraj facilitated a project exploring the regional value that could be created after mine closures in the Northwest Territories. The regional impact of mine closure in the Northwest Territories is tremendous, with approximately 29% of the territory’s GDP coming from 3 diamond mines set to close by 2030. The Reimagining Closure project engaged with interest holders within and beyond the Slave Geological Province, where the mines set to close are located, and in doing so generated over 40 unique ideas on how the mining sector, governments, and Indigenous peoples can create new value together.

What we heard in the Northwest Territories matches what participants shared with us in a 2020 PDAC session on reimagining the future of mining, namely that thinking big and beyond the mine site is critical for the industry’s future.

Thinking regionally unlocks ideas for value creation that cannot be found when focusing solely on the site-specific impact on rights, which may be critical but does not speak to the whole story. Creating opportunities to generate industry, wealth, cultural expression, and sustainable communities generates the local value propositions that in turn enable Canada to recognize its global value proposition.

The track record for proponents who think big about value creation is strong, which is good news for both their shareholders and for Canada’s ambitions to supply the global transition to clean energy.

Making It Happen Today, Not Tomorrow

Collaboration as a standard approach to partnership needs to sit parallel to procedural consultation requirements, and it needs to start now. Over 130 countries have committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, meaning countries that can efficiently and effectively develop resources—many who place  less emphasis on the rights of Indigenous peoples and the interests of its citizens—have a head start on Canada to reach a significant global market.

Interest-based collaboration can be initiated by proponents today to make mines happen tomorrow. If they do, the outcome is increased value for local stakeholders, investors, and potentially an easier regulatory ride to the finish line.

After all, Canada’s place in the global journey to 2050 undoubtedly requires strong relationships built on trust and the desire to achieve mutual benefit for all. And in the race to 2050, collaboration can make the difference between Canadian-led global leadership or being left behind.

Are you exploring the future of mining? We’d love to hear from you and discover how you're navigating this year and beyond.

Dan Pujdak is former Executive Director at Coeuraj Scott Cavan is former Director of Sustainable Economies at Coeuraj

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