A new partnership between industry and First Nations in northwestern Ontario could serve as a model for sustainable development in First Nations communities.
The First Nations Mining Corporation (FNMC) is an emerging partnership between SNC-Lavalin, Cementation Canada Inc., Morris Group Ltd., Flying Post First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation, Mattagami First Nation and Wahgoshig First Nation. It will form joint venture partnerships with local Aboriginal communities to promote, develop and carry out engineering, construction, environmental and other services for mining companies in Ontario throughout the project lifecycle.
The corporation will also work to strengthen ties between Aboriginal communities and mining companies in order to facilitate the training and hiring of Aboriginals and the procurement of goods and services from Aboriginal suppliers.
The concept originated with Morris Group owner Dave Morris, who had developed good working relationships with Aboriginal communities and mining companies over the years, said Steve Lindley, vice-president of Aboriginal and Northern affairs for SNC-Lavalin. It was his idea to bring together industry partners and Aboriginal ownership as a way for mining companies to gain access to employment and procurement inclusion in the projects and develop relationships with Aboriginal communities.
“This vehicle provides owners an opportunity to be able to make a relationship directly with the community through the First Nations Mining Corp. and basically step up to the buffet table of any service that they may want, from the beginning of mining development all the way through mining closure,” Lindley said.
Currently, the partnership consists of a memorandum of understanding, but the plan is to capitalize the initiative and give the partners shareholder status. For example, FNMC could set up a subsidiary and establish joint venture projects with communities, which would be majority owners. The corporation could then use that relationship to leverage work at the mine, with the benefits flowing directly through the communities.
The communities are those they’ve have had relationships with before, many of whom have business experience and successful partnerships with other entities, so creating this type of partnership seemed like a natural extension of those relationships, Lindley said.
“As business people in the Aboriginal community, these guys are looking to increase their investments,” Lindley said. “They’re really no different from any other business when it comes right down to it, and their community leadership sees the benefits of it and wants to get involved, but they also see the benefit of the relationship with local communities when they go to do work.”
The types of projects that emerge will determine how the corporation moves forward. Once FNMC knows what kinds of opportunities are available, it can create a business structure, Lindley said.
“We’re probably going to spend our focus on a fair amount of marketing and trying to identify potential projects that we can undertake as FNMC,” Lindley said. “And then, depending on the project, where it is, what size it is, and who of our partners might be involved in what way, then we’ll come up with some sort of a corporate structure that we can capitalize.”
Not all projects need to be larges ones; Lindley said the FNMC is happy to start small and work its way up. There is also a training component to the initiative. It could be training in life skills, general labour, or skilled labour, depending on the project, Lindley said. But the partners have agreed to contribute their own expertise and funding to the initiative.
There could also be the potential to partner with post-secondary educational institutions or existing training programs. “None of this is exclusionary,” Lindley said. “I think we’d be putting our heads in the sand if we didn’t recognize and work with what’s already established in terms of expertise and concepts and even funding programs.”
The corporation has established a management committee and is working to create a website and accompanying marketing campaign to have ready at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention in March. Lindley said feedback from First Nations and mining companies is welcome, as the concept will evolve as FNMC moves forward.
“We’re open for business, we’re looking for ways we can improve our model, or at least refine our model, and we’re looking to be inclusive with First Nations communities throughout Ontario.”