On November 2nd 2010 the federal environment minister Jim Prentice announced that the government had rejected Taseko mines proposed mine in British Columbia, which is one of the largest proposed projects located in one of the hardest hit areas in BC. The day after the announcement the premier of the province stepped down. It is my opinion that this announcement was the last punch that sent the premier over the edge and forced him to resign. This project which was strongly supported by the B.C. government, had huge opposition by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, which considers the area their traditional territory, the opposition was as great, that one of the elders from the community is quoted as being willing to be at the blockade in her wheelchair carrying her shotgun and she doesn’t miss to often. The potential inflammatory nature of such a tremendous opposition is what in my opinion forced the Harper government to reject this project and what at the end of the day, sent the premier packing.
Earlier this year, the financial sector got a wake up call to the importance of First Nation relationships and the mining and exploration companies. In Canada one of the most successful forms for exploration companies to raise money are flow through shares, which allow a tax benefit to the buyer of the share, when the exploration company spends the money raised directly on exploration costs. If the money raised by the company can’t be spent, then the purchaser of the flow through share doesn’t get the benefit, which could have been the case this summer at the blockade that Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls carried out in the famous ring of fire. This incident is not isolated to the ring of fire incident, bay street now is aware of the power and influence First Nation communities have in the success of mining and exploration companies, in the future, having positive relationships and solid agreements with communities will be an important asset in raising capital for future developments.
These are two recent examples of how important relationships with First Nation are to the future development of mining and exploration projects. Communities are increasingly realizing that in order to assert their treaty rights, they have to be more assertive about their lands, which in the long run, it might not be the best way to go about it, since it does become costly for both sides, but most importantly this could lead to an unhealthy trend, where communities will feel that their only recourse is to deny logistical access to projects.
It is sad that even now days after so many examples of why it is important to have strong relationships with Aboriginal communities, there is still an immense resistance from some industry players to properly consult and work with communities. Moving forward there needs to be a greater investment by government and industry to educate not only communities but industry as well in how to work and consult with First Nation communities
The outlook is not completely gloomy, there are some exciting thing happening as well, at Learning together we are working on a project that is targeted at increasing meaningful employment in the mining industry. In partnership with Goldcorp we have developed a program working within the communities to assess and identify employment ready candidates and assist those that are not ready to become ready. This is geared at addressing one of the biggest issues that communities and industry face, and that is putting community members in employment positions where the candidate is not ready to fulfill. This is a pilot project we are running with Goldcorp, but when we completed we are going to work in carrying out a national strategy to improve the employment outlook across the country.