When the PDAC’s Aboriginal Affairs committee
formed in 2004, there was a growing desire
within the association to enhance the natural
partnership that existed between Aboriginal
communities and the mineral exploration and
mining industry. Yet at the time, Aboriginal
participation at the PDAC Convention was not
very high and there were no Aboriginal executives
on the PDAC’s board of directors.
How times have changed. Today, the PDAC
has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in
place with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to
promote greater participation by First Nations in
the mineral industry in Canada, and more than
500 self-identified Aboriginal delegates attended
the PDAC Convention in 2014.
“I’m always amazed about where we’ve come
in the last decade as an industry,” says Glenn Nolan,
who hails from the Missanabie Cree First Nation
in northern Ontario and was the PDAC's 35th President (2012-2013) in addition to working as Vice-President
of Aboriginal Affairs for Noront Resources. “The
growth in awareness by industry members about
what needs to be done to engage communities in
a proactive and respectful way is encouraging.”
It was former President Peter Dimmell who first
recognized in 2004 that the PDAC needed to take
a greater leadership role in fostering a positive
relationship with Aboriginal communities.
The B.C. Supreme Court had just ruled on the
“duty to consult” and issues were arising
between some junior companies and Aboriginal
communities in Ontario.
“The Platinex-Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug
(KI) dispute was not in the news yet, but there
were a couple of other less high profile situations
where companies and communities were starting
to clash around the duty to consult,” says Don
Bubar, who sat on the PDAC Board of Directors from 2004 to 2012 and has worked with Aboriginal groups
in the Northwest Territories and in northwestern
Ontario. “Peter approached me to chair the new PDAC Aboriginal Affairs committee because I had
spoken up on Aboriginal issues during a couple
of board meetings and was one of the few on the
board at the time who had relevant experience
working with communities.”
Bubar immediately turned to Chuck Willms, a
lawyer specializing in Aboriginal law at Fasken
Martineau, to join the committee and speak at a
PDAC event on the implications of the Supreme
Court decision on the duty to consult. Nolan
attended the event as a representative of his own
community and introduced himself to Bubar,
who recognized in Nolan a valuable potential
committee and PDAC board member.
When elected at the AGM in March 2005, Nolan
was the only Aboriginal person on the PDAC
board of directors at the time. He was followed by
Jack Blacksmith, Michael Fox and Annita McPhee.
Fox and McPhee still serve on the board with
Nolan, who became President in 2012.
“My role as the President is being seen as a
game-changer,” says Nolan. “Aboriginal people
are now looking at the association as a way of
embracing something that, in the past, they
might not have considered.”
Both Nolan and Bubar identify the PDAC’s
MOU with the Assembly of First Nations as the
committee’s most significant accomplishment.
Signed in 2008, the agreement establishes a
relationship between the two organizations
with a commitment to opportunities for regular
dialogue between the mineral sector and communities,
collaboration on human resource
initiatives that promote greater participation
of First Nations people in Canada’s exploration
and mining industry, and cooperation on public
policy issues of mutual interest.
As of February 2012, more than 180 agreements
have been signed between mining companies
and Aboriginal communities or governments in
Canada, according to Natural Resources Canada.
Projects range from grassroots exploration plays
to producing mines across the country.
Another significant milestone was the PDAC’s
establishment of the Skookum Jim Award.
First presented in March 2008, the award recognizes
exceptional achievement and/or service
from an Aboriginal-run business, or an individual
who has made a significant contribution to
the industry. The 2014 winner is Jim MacLeod, President of J.A. MacLeod Exploration and EnviroCree Ltd., for his strong leadership on the environmental impact of the mining sector and his work advocating for more education and training programs for Aboriginal youth within the industry
“Having the board recognize the importance of
Aboriginal entrepreneurs and movers and
shakers that have exemplified a strong commitment
to the industry was significant,” says Nolan.
Since the Aboriginal Program was launched at
the PDAC Convention in 2006, it has grown exponentially
in quality and quantity. With two days
of sessions (increased from one half-day session
at its inception) devoted to Aboriginal programming,
the convention is a unique opportunity for
companies and communities to network, create
partnerships, and share knowledge.
Aboriginal participation at the convention is
expected to continue to grow in the upcoming years, says Lesley
Williams, the PDAC’s Manager of Aboriginal
Affairs and Resource Development. Programming
in four separate sessions will focus on building
capacity, promoting excellence in engagement,
and addressing subjects such as consultation
and community-company agreements.
Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the year the
PDAC will continue to develop tools to build
awareness around the mineral development
sequence and opportunities that exist, and
encourage increased and meaningful Aboriginal
participation in the industry, adds Williams.
Apart from the Aboriginal Program at the
convention, PDAC Aboriginal Affairs undertakes
initiatives and activities to promote greater understanding
and cooperation between Aboriginal
communities and the mineral industry in Canada.
While advocating for policy, such as government
resource revenue sharing and the resolution of
land claims, the PDAC participates in conferences
and meetings central to Aboriginal issues
in Canada. The development of research and
tools such as the Exploration and Mining Guide
for Aboriginal Communities is also an integral
element of the department.
The opportunity for constructive engagement
and Aboriginal participation in the sector is not
lost on government representatives at the
provincial and federal level. “We talk a lot in public
policy about jobs without people and people
without jobs and I think that is the key to this
obvious marriage of Aboriginal people, particularly
their youth, and the mining industry,” says Liberal
MP Carolyn Bennett, who attended PDAC 2102 and
is Vice-Chair of the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern
Development committee at the federal level.
Nolan agrees with such a sentiment and
envisions a future in which communities take
ownership of exploration programs, hire their
own people, and secure licences to develop
projects. When such a vision becomes a reality,
the PDAC Aboriginal Affairs committee will have
fulfilled its mandate.
- By Virginia Heffernan