New Afton
Credit: New Gold

The New Afton mine near Kamloops

The starting point is engagement

There are 198 First Nations in B.C. While there may be some similar concerns, each Nation is unique. Sadly some are not connected to the grid, others do not have ready access to clean drinking water, and most are contending with social problems. It is only through open engagement between companies and communities that resolutions can be attained. Education may be necessary so that decision makers have the capacity to make choices, but this has to be at the request of First Nations and the result cannot be predetermined.

Putting aside UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent), starting early is paramount to building a strong relationship where partnerships and support of projects can be developed gradually. When our view of time is influenced by Gant charts, and achieving social licence is limited by the dollars spent, we can lose sight of the long-term value in building relationships and ultimately how to achieve meaningful reconciliation. In other words, how do we move forward together?

Government and companies seek to understand First Nation communities but do not always realize that this starts simply with listening. This is the basis for defining what must be addressed before spending millions of dollarsInnovative solutions may come from many sources, including the wisdom embodied in traditional knowledge which can only be accessed through dialogue. Proponents have to accept an outcome where a project is simply a no-go in a certain area that is of spiritual significance to the Nation.

Companies can create training and employment opportunities for First Nation communities. For example, Centerra Gold, Nak’azdli Whut’en, McLeod Lake Indian Band and the College of New Caledonia have recently collaborated to create a mining boot camp to support entry-level employment at Mount Milligan mine in north-central B.C. Each community has several members enrolled in the two-week program, and after graduation the students are able to apply for dedicated positions at the mine.

Companies can also create economic development strategies for First Nation communities with clear commitments and the right people in place. At its New Afton mine in Kamloops, New Gold is providing local First Nations with benefits that include training, employment, business opportunities and a share in revenue. It really does require those who are in charge of social responsibility and Indigenous relations to find a way to think outside the box and to offer local suppliers the chance to participate effectively in the supply chain.

Success starts with listening, respect, collaboration and the willingness to find a way forward.

Lana Eagle is a member of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan and senior advisor at Lana Eagle Consulting, where she assists companies to better engage with Indigenous communities and helps Aboriginal groups build sustainable communities and economies for future generations. She is also a member of the program advisory committee for Mining and Mineral Exploration at BCIT and co-chair for RFG2018 (Resources for Future Generations Conference) in Vancouver June 18-21, 2018.