Between rock face and hard place [Ring of Fire and First Nations] -by Maureen Nadin (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – June 11, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

This is the fourth of a multi-part series looking at the mining sector of Northwestern Ontario and the Ring of Fire.
 
Republic of Mining blogger Stan Sudol keeps his finger on the pulse of the mining and prospecting communities. The journalist and mining strategist has gone on record to express his view that the potential offered by the Ring of Fire development is “a wonderful opportunity to alleviate poverty in First Nations communities.”

Although some would argue that it is impossible to fully alleviate poverty anywhere, Sudol’s sentiment is a noble, albeit lofty expression of the economic hope that the Ring of Fire has created for communities in the mineral-rich region.

Aboriginal people have traditionally worked and had a strong connection to the land, but the modern mining industry is multifaceted and highly technological. There is a diversity of skill sets required that vary with each phase of the operation and all stakeholders must work together to open the path to the rock face for aspiring workers.

And that requires not only strategic partnerships, but a holistic “big picture” approach as to how to prepare Aboriginal people to fill those jobs.

And that involves working with the communities — a challenging undertaking when one considers that there are nine Matawa Tribal Council communities as well as the Metis Nation of Ontario that are primarily affected by the Ring of Fire, and they don’t necessarily have the same needs.
 
Glenn Nolan, manager of Aboriginal affairs for Noront Resources and former chief of Missanabie First Nation, recognizes that working with each community, and listening and learning from what they have to say, lies at the heart of a successful partnership.

“We go beyond what the Mining Act has stated,” Nolan says.

“Our efforts are focused on creating an awareness of mining in general within the community, especially among young people.”
Part of that general awareness is working with youth in each community to remove barriers that would prevent them from taking advantage of employment opportunities. This can’t be accomplished in isolation, and Nolan stresses that it is critical to recognize the larger social issues that may prevent young people from completing the Grade 12 education that is required for an apprenticeship program.

“We’ll work with them to get their high school education,” he says, adding that the company not only encourages workers to participate in adult learning programs, but will provide tutors and other supports at the camp facility. “If someone has the skill,” he says, “we are willing to look at them. We want to help people get ready”.

Although Musselwhite Mine is not located in the Ring of Fire, Goldcorp has demonstrated a successful strategy for working with, upgrading and training its Aboriginal workforce.

Not only was Goldcorp the first mining company to develop a formal agreement with First Nations, the agreement is still considered the gold seal and one of best practice models in the province.

It speaks to the concerns of the traditional harvesters, employment, training and economic development opportunities which has resulted in not only jobs for community members, but has helped to further develop their business capacity to provide goods and services directly to the mine.

Adela Faubert, Musselwhite’s Aboriginal affairs manager, recognizes the importance of companies developing a relationship with communities and, like Noront, Goldcorp worked to help remove barriers for workers while providing services to assist with social problems. Goldcorp also partnered with Sioux Hudson Literacy Council to bring upgrading services and Internet accessibility to the community.

But stakeholders don’t always have the same perspective, and blogger Sudol’s prediction about alleviating poverty doesn’t resonate with some members of the Aboriginal community.

Raymond Ferris, Ring of Fire co-ordinator for Mattawa Tribal Alliance, points out that for Aboriginal communities “it’s not just about economic development.”

He says he favours a model with Aboriginal employment and training agencies working directly with community members, and he emphasizes the importance of balancing Aboriginal culture, language and environment with economic development.

He says that 100 years of mining will change the lives of Aboriginal people over generations and “we have one chance to get this right.”

Ferris says he feels that there is still hope to get it right and hope is an important part of the formula for success.
Although there remains much to work out, it is holistic strategies such as the willingness to work together to remove employment barriers that will bring all parties closer to the rock face in a “win-win” partnership.

John Mason, CEDC mining services project manager, is also optimistic when he thoughtfully observes: “Aboriginal people have successfully prospected and mined for over 6,000 years in Northwestern Ontario, and it would be appropriate that opportunities continue in the mineral sector for them.”

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