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Why Land Use in Mining Is Key to Reconciliation

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

By Tyee Staff 2 Dec 2016 |

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. We were there on the invitation and hospitality of the Clayoquot Action Society, in the Tla-o-qu-ah territory, 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 Catface Mountain! This is on Ahousaht territory, next door to Tla-o-qui-aht. 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.

On how FMC has helped B.C. mining law move towards reconciliation:

Glenn Grande: When the ministry of energy and mines did a review of its main mining code and the Health Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines after Mount Polley, we thought we’d take a look at it and see if we could call for some recommendations. That became our document “The Path to Zero Failures.” First and foremost, it included meaningful consultation with First Nations. The duty to consult and accommodate is a legal duty, but no one’s ever outlined it.

When the ministry came back with the code, the only thing they changed in regards to First Nations is one line: what is required for a permit from a miner. The miner has to recognize or affirm aboriginal rights. That’s language directly taken from the Constitution in Section 35. It’s the only time the word Aboriginal has been mentioned in a mining statute in over 150 years! There’s still a lot of work to do in that area.

On why land use is crucial to reconciliation:

Glenn Grande: It’s because colonizers wanted the land. Canada was founded on a lie, and that lie is called terra nullius. It means all of the colonizers came over and said, “Oh there’s nobody living here. It’s ours.” Well hang on, this country already had defined territories by the people who lived here. There was a patchwork of nations; if you imagine the European continent, it wasn’t much different. There were millions of Aboriginal peoples here. They had legal societies, societies of commerce, they fought wars — there was the existence of a robust culture. And it was ignored.

So now our history is catching up to us. We’ve still got segregation. We’ve still got impoverished communities. We’re living in an apartheid state. It’s not good for us and it’s not good for the soul of the country. It’s not good to teach our kids.

I want to go beyond reconciliation and move to restitution. Give them their land back. (People get real nervous when you talk like this!) Restitution means that you acknowledge everything you’ve done wrong, and put all of your energy into making reparations to restore the people that you were wronged back to the situation they were in before you wronged them. And swear never to do it again. That’s restitution, and we’re not there yet. And until the country gets there, we’re not whole.

Amy Crook: It’s the will to change a very entrenched system. We take a narrow focus and do it through mining, but that’s what our work does — create change.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Tyee has been a media sponsor for the Real Estate Foundation Land Awards Gala for the last three years. This article is part of an advertising and promotions package.  [Tyee]

This article is part of a Tyee Presents initiative. Tyee Presents is the special sponsored content section within The Tyee where we highlight contests, events and other initiatives that are either put on by us or by our select partners. The Tyee does not and cannot vouch for or endorse products advertised on The Tyee. We choose our partners carefully and consciously, to fit with The Tyee’s reputation as B.C.’s Home for News, Culture and Solutions. Learn more about Tyee Presents here.

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