CBC

Experts discuss negotiation process between mining companies, Indigenous communities

Cheryl Recollet, the director of sustainable development for Wahnapitae First Nation, says her community has been successful at consultations with mining companies.

Cheryl Recollet, the director of sustainable development for Wahnapitae First Nation, says her community has been successful at consultations with mining companies. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Ontario law stipulates that Indigenous communities must be consulted before any work is carried out on traditional lands, but many Indigenous communities say they don’t have the resources to undertake meaningful consultations with mining companies.

​That was one of the issues discussed during a panel discussion Wednesday at the University of Sudbury.

The event was put together by the school’s Indigenous Studies director, Mike Hankard, who says some issues still need to be worked out.

There’s a lot at stake in these conversations.

The mining industry wants to find resources and make money for shareholders, while the Indigenous communities are looking for jobs for their people, and revenue from royalties.

Hankard says community members are not always on the same page heading into talks with industry.

“If people are divided when they begin negotiating or talking at [the] beginning of the consultation process with these multi national corporations, they’re always going to be at a disadvantage”.

Lorraine Reckmans

Lorraine Reckmans, an environmental and social justice advocate from Serpent River First Nation, says Indigenous communities don’t have the same level of resources as mining companies when it comes to negotiations. (Angela Gemmill/ CBC)

Negotiations not equal

An environmental and social justice advocate from Serpent River First Nation says mining companies have finances and experts to help them with their side of the negotiations, but First Nations communities don’t have the same level of resources.

“You would expect that a community would have a lands department or a lands manager. That’s not the case in many communities. So you have a gap in the community,” Lorraine Reckmans said.

As the Crown must be involved in the legal part of the consultation, she says the government should provide Indigenous communities with the resources needed to handle those negotiations.

Learning ‘along the way’

Wahnapitae First Nation has been one of the more successful communities when it comes to consultation with businesses.

It has partnerships with major mining companies like Vale and Glencore, connected to projects in the territory says Cheryl Recollet, director of sustainable development.

“We’ve learned along the way and we’ve strengthened our relationship since. That’s the most important part is to remember this is a relationship and we’re here to figure these things out.”

She adds that these budding relationships are important, but they’re not always easy to navigate.

“You’re neighbours here. How are you guys going to work together?”