sharing in governance of extractive industries
Natural resource development contributes one-fifth of Canada's national GDP and creates 1.8 million jobs. In 2013, seven per cent of these were held by Aboriginal peoples. According to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canada's ability to leverage its natural resource endowment "increasingly depends on industry and government's ability to address concerns over the social impacts of resource development," particularly as it affects Aboriginal peoples and communities. Ironically, at a time when historic wrongs are finally being addressed on a national level, one of the most regulated sectors in Canada faces tremendous uncertainty and lacks guidance to uniformly engage with Aboriginal peoples on development issues. Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon the Canadian federal and provincial governments to set clear and fair guidelines to bridge the gaps between the expectations of Indigenous communities and the national resources sector so that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians work together for mutual benefit.
As lead researchers in a national study undertaken by the Mining Shared Value Venture of Engineers Without Borders (MSV) and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) on Aboriginal procurement in the mining industry, we have seen that successful Aboriginal businesses and communities are very active players in all aspects of these projects. From initial exploration stages to reclamation, Aboriginal businesses and community owned economic development corporations (AEDCs) provide construction, camp, security, maintenance, environmental monitoring and other services to mining and resource development projects. Individuals we interviewed said while they are not unequivocally against resource development, it must be sustainable and indigenous peoples must have an equitable share in the benefits and opportunities that accrue from non-renewable resources. Business development is a vital part of this equation. The World Indigenous Business Forum, which was held in Saskatoon, SK, Canada last month from Aug. 23 to 25, is a prime example of how cooperative business relationships can catalyze economic development, leading to sustainable growth for Aboriginal businesses and communities. Aboriginal communities are often located near mineral deposits and mining operations, so their businesses are reliable and able to respond flexibly to the fickle nature of mining operations. We heard about reductions in staff turnover and mistakes that were avoided because aboriginal contractors knew how to work in and accommodate harsh conditions and understood local variables in the land and environment in ways that southern engineers did not. Several mine sites we visited, in partnership with local communities, created training, networking and business development programs, but these were largely the result of Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) and based on individual creativity and initiative. AEDC and mining company representatives both said they were confused and frustrated with the ever-changing, overlapping, and vague consultation requirements.
Clear guidelines not only allow mining companies to fulfil their social duties but create a reliable, consistent environment for Aboriginal community capacity and business development growth. Aboriginal entrepreneurs told us they also want to see clear commitments from federal and provincial governments to develop training partnerships and facilitate capacity building initiatives in their communities so that they can be equal players at the table. Many Aboriginal communities across the country are leading the sustainable development of natural resources on their territories. As the Canadian courts increasingly move to recognize title rights and expand the parameters of consultation, indigenous peoples are in the best position to develop and outline acceptable standards for engagement and development and their perspectives and needs should be the catalysts to proactively avoid what could be a reactive legal landslide in the years to come. Without greater clarity and guidance from all levels of government, the gap in expectations between indigenous peoples and Canada's resource development sector will only grow wider. The Canadian case study is illustrative of how companies and communities can find common opportunities, and create value for both parties that aligns with shared priorities.
This article was written by Anthea Darychuk, Research Coordinator, Mining Shared Value, and Dr. Karen Travers, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Excerpts of the article appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on August 20, 2016.
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