Waubetek Business Development Corporation has developed a new mining strategy designed to help stakeholders navigate the intricacies involved with resource development in Northeastern Ontario.
The three-year Aboriginal Mining Strategy for North-East Ontario outlines priorities in four strategic areas, including developing Aboriginal mining industry knowledge; building mining industry relations; engaging a skilled Aboriginal workforce; and promoting Aboriginal business and partnerships.
The steering committee behind the strategy, which includes representatives from First Nations, training organizations, mining research institutions and others, held its inaugural meeting in Sudbury on Feb. 6.
“This is an important strategy for Aboriginal people,” Martin Bayer, Waubetek’s chair, said in a news release. “As we are located in northeast Ontario, in the hub of significant mining activities, we believe it is important to provide the opportunities and tools to Aboriginal businesses in our region and open doors to the mining sector for our clients.”
Now that there’s a clear legal framework requiring consultation with and accommodation for the interests of First Nations people when it comes to resource development, Waubetek wants a strategy in place that helps smooth the process, said Waubetek’s general manager, Dawn Madahbee.
Stakeholders are often unclear about how to navigate the protocols that come with consultation, she noted: mining companies don’t know who to contact to begin the conversation, provinces are unsure of how to approach First Nations, and First Nations themselves can be swamped with information they don’t have the expertise to analyze.
“We were noticing that there were some gaps in facilitating some partnerships and the engagement of Aboriginal people,” Madahbee said. “So the strategy was designed to look at ways that we can bridge those gaps and better involve Aboriginal people in the industry.”
A key component of the strategy will be an Aboriginal Mining Business Network. While there are currently some businesses that supply goods and services to the mining companies, there are some that would like to be part of the process, Madahbee noted.
The network could provide training and resources to help businesses get involved in the procurement process and make contacts in the industry.
“(Northeastern Ontario) is the hub of mining pretty much in Canada,” Madahbee said. “How come Aboriginal people aren’t more engaged in this? So that’s what we’re looking at doing.”
Another focus for the group is setting up a Centre of Excellence on Aboriginal Mining, which would be a clearinghouse of technical information for First Nations, Aboriginal businesses, or even representatives from the mining industry to get information on the consultation and accommodation process. Companies might go there to find contact information for a First Nation community, while a First Nation may go to find out what all is involved in mining exploration.
“That’s going to be a pretty important aspect of this,” Madahbee said.
Priorities are already laid out in the strategy, but the steering committee is currently looking at funding a database of skilled workers and putting into place remedial measures to get Aboriginal Mining Business Network up and running. It will then set up benchmarks for three-month, six-month and one-year periods.
In its infancy stage, the strategy will serve northeastern Ontario, but Madahbee said the Centre of Excellence will be available to all of Northern Ontario, including the northwest. Waubetek is partnering with the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund on that portion of the project.
Though the Aboriginal Business Mining Network will start off serving Northeastern Ontario, it, too, could eventually expand to cover other areas of the province.
“The biggest thing here overall is that we’re looking at a collaborative approach where all the First Nations are involved, because sometimes mining companies or other levels of government will deal with one First Nation, and there are so many First Nations that are doing good work,” she said.
Sagamok, for example, has been successful putting into place agreements with a number of mining companies, and has additionally secured funding to construct an industrial park that will capitalize on economic opportunities connected to the mining sector.
Waubetek, which is located on the Whitefish River First Nation near Manitoulin Island, delivers business financing and economic development services to First Nations and Aboriginal entrepreneurs in Northeastern Ontario.