Building capacity and business ventures for First Nation people is the focus of the impact benefit agreement (IBA) signed between Northgate Minerals Corporation and Matachewan First Nation.
Although the IBA was signed almost two years ago, the agreement is about building the capacity of the Matachewan First Nation people with respect to education and skills development as well as business opportunities, said Chris Rockingham, Northgate Mineral’s vice president, business development and exploration.
In 2005, the Vancouver-based gold and copper producer acquired 11,000 acres on the site of two former past-producing mines: Young-Davidson and Matachewan Consolidated. Several years of aggressive exploration work proved up enough of a resource to obtain the necessary permits to initiate a US$339 million open-pit and underground gold mine projects.
The company is in its construction phase and, as of mid-February, employed in excess of 100 people, of which 25 per cent are First Nation, said Rockingham. A cumulating workforce of 600 is expected this year. A production date of 2012 has been targeted with a operational staff of 275.
A 3.5-year training program called the Matachewan Aboriginal Access to Mine Jobs Training Strategy (MAATS) has successfully placed more than 115 Aboriginal people in permanent positions at three mines: Northgate Minerals, Lake Shore Gold and Liberty Mines, said MAATS executive director Ann Batisse.
The $4-million initiative was funded by the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) under the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP) and by the Ontario government.
It is comprised of Matachewan, Wahgoshig, Flying Post and Mattagami First Nations and mining companies like Northgate Minerals, Lake Shore Gold and Liberty Mines.
It began in August 2008 and is designed to develop interventions that will assist Aboriginal members to prepare, obtain, maintain and advance in jobs at all levels of the mining industry. MAATS offers educational upgrading and training for those without their Grade 12 diploma, as well as training for skilled trades, apprenticeships and supervisory mining positions. Northern College has also become a service provider to the program to assist with those skill developments.
Batisse said their targeted employment numbers are 150 by March 2012, which she believes, they will easily accomplish. She hopes to reapply for an additional four-year program because they are getting requests for more partners that see the benefits of the MAATS program and Aboriginal people as an untapped human resource for the industry.
“I think we’ve done a really good job at informing the mining and other industries about the Aboriginal community and that its young population provide an excellent steady workforce,” she said, adding that Northgate Mines has been a great partner that have exceeded their commitment to employ and train people.
Rockingham said the company provided in-kind contributions like access to the project for skills development. One example was a training program for six trainees underground at the company’s mine. An experienced First Nation person led the course. Five graduated and were hired on at the mine including the instructor.
“We’re contributing supervision, access to equipment and the site,” he said.
Beyond the training and employment, the IBA focuses on business opportunities for the band and entrepreneurs.
“An IBA is all about capacity building and the opportunity to develop businesses that are sustainable beyond the life of a mine,” Rockingham said.
Presently, Ednisyan Camp and Logistics has a joint venture with Morris Modular, a Sudbury-based mobile camp and catering business. It will be providing a camp for more than 200 people. It is expected to be operational within the next couple of months in preparation for the anticipated increasing workforce. It will be located on First Nation property about 12 miles from the mine site.
Other entrepreneurial businesses that have evolved to date are: Wincikaby Contracting Ltd. and Matachewan First Nation Limited Partnership, which provides coverall and janitorial services.