The Tyee

Fair Mining Collaborative helps First Nations ensure rights, interests protected at every stage of projects

MountPolleyCRD_600px.jpgA plan by Fair Mining Collaborative suggested changes to mining safety and legislation to help prevent disasters like that of Mount Polley in 2014

Every aspect of mining that involves First Nations has the potential to infringe upon their rights and title, according to the Fair Mining Collaborative (FMC).

The B.C.-based non-profit is working to make sure Indigenous communities have the skills and tools to ensure mining deals are done right, especially as Canada pursues truth and reconciliation.

“The history of mining in B.C. is paired with the history of colonization in the province, legally and socially,” said Glenn Grande, the collaborative’s senior researcher and writer.

Grande is of Cree ancestry and a former teacher who taught at all grade levels in First Nations communities throughout B.C. He graduated with a juris doctorate from the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law in 2014.

“I was born and raised in Edmonton and grew up around the coal mines there. I had no interest in working in the mines or anything to do with them,” said Grande. “Law school really opened my eyes to the true nature of Aboriginal and Indigenous rights as both a human rights issue and an internal law issue. It put colonization into a different lens for me.”

Land use decisions are made through a complex process involving First Nations, governments, and mining companies, and often involve unresolved land claims, sensitive ecosystems and mistrust between communities and the resource development industry.

The Fair Mining Collaborative steps into that world and helps Indigenous communities assert their rights. FMC works with Indigenous communities through consultations and workshops. Its research has also led to the creation of landmark documents that include key legal and mining policies from around the world.

One unique thing about the documents — they’re written by Indigenous people. Half of FMC’s staff are Indigenous.

“Fair Mining Practices: A New Mining Code for BC” suggests the best possible practices for First Nations communities. “The Mine Medicine Manual” is a step-by-step guide to the entire mining life cycle from pre-exploration to post-closure. “The Path to Zero Failures” outlines suggested changes to B.C.’s Health Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines and the Mines Act in order to prevent disasters like the collapse of a tailings pond at Mount Polley in 2014.

The Fair Mining Collaborative recently won this year’s Real Estate Foundation of BC Land Award for the non-profit sector.

Here’s what Glenn Grande and FMC executive director Amy Crook had to say about mining and land use’s role in reconciliation.

On aiding First Nations through education and autonomy:

Amy Crook: First Nations have to be informed in order to ask the right questions about the process of government, of industry, of each other, and of all the other economic, social, and cultural influences in the area. It’s a very complex decision-making process for communities.

We don’t take a pro or con stance. And it isn’t just us educating them. Our work is always about the community leading the process, and communities often tell us what they need. Many want to know the best practices, what they should be asking for, how they can protect their interests. So we took those questions and developed our Fair Mining Practices code.

On integrating mining law with the Seven Sacred teachings:

Glenn Grande: The Seven Sacred Teachings are very common throughout the First Nations and Indian nations in Canada. They’re a spiritual way of living. You know, love and respect, honour and humility, how to carry yourself in the world — those kinds of concepts. You take those concepts and involve them with how mining is done, how commerce is done, and resource extraction. That formed our Mine Medicine Manual and an in-person course.

On how FMC’s education efforts have helped communities learn new things about their land:

Glenn Grande: We taught a course in Tofino to the Ucluelet First Nation. We were there on the invitation and hospitality of the Clayoquot Action Society, who have a relationship with many of the First Nations there. We showed them the practical aspects of navigating the system: where the claims are on their land, how to identify them, what the geology is, what the mining companies are after. And during that, they were shocked to find that there were claims staked on what they call Catfish Mountain! The claims were staked for a copper mine by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns Mount Polley. And that snowballed into a bit of controversy out there and raised an issue that nobody would’ve known about.