Respect was a major theme running through the recent International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining when it comes to aboriginal cultures and partnerships. For the mining industry, consistency of regulations and guidelines were the talking points.
The summit, which ran from June 26–29 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, drew more than 800 participants that included aboriginal leaders, citizens, and representatives from industry and government from all over the world. Indigenous leaders’ goal is to play an active role in resource development on the lands they are stewards of, balancing environmental preservation with economic sustainability.
The gathering was co-sponsored by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and its U.S. counterpart, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). More than 800 indigenous leaders, citizens, and government and industry representatives gathered in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, for three days of presentations, dialogue and discussion, building on the new leverage afforded aboriginals in the wake of the U.S. and Canada’s signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Key to enabling both respect and consistency is the notion of free prior and informed consent, detailed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada and the U.S. endorsed in November and December 2010, respectively.
“This is truly an exciting time for Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world,” said AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a joint statement with NCAI President Jefferson Keel after the three-day conference. “We have an opportunity today to change the thinking from the ‘indigenous problem‘ to ‘indigenous potential.’ We see the opportunities in resource development as a key to unlock the full potential of indigenous peoples across the globe in ways that are responsible, sustainable and mutually beneficial to all parties…. It is time for indigenous peoples to lead the way.”
Keel recalled the Declaration of Kinship and Cooperation among Indigenous Peoples and Nations that Native and aboriginal leaders signed 12 years ago.
“It is our sovereign right as the Tribal Nations of North America to be responsible for the management of our energy and natural resources,” Keel said in the statement. “The environments our people have depended on for generations hold vast energy and mineral resources. When respectfully managed by our nations, these resources will benefit our peoples, our countries, and the ecosystems we all share.”
To this end the two leaders agreed to collaborate on playing lead roles in resource development in North America.
Mining companies want to show respect as well as manage their own risk, something that essentially are two sides of the same coin, said Anthony Hodge, President of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMN), speaking on Energy, Mining and Indigenous Peoples on day two of the three-day conference. Ideal for mining companies, he said in the keynote address, would be “a situation where the rules are clear and they can get on with it.”
Hodge stressed especially the need to know how to proceed in light of climate change. The world needs to agree on how to address the issue, he said, but seems farther than ever away from doing so.
“Today, the hope for a consistent international global agreement to guide everybody on how we move forward on climate change has retreated back into the distant future in terms of practical implementation,” Hodge said. He added that currently it consists of a “sort of patchwork quilt of regulation related to climate change…. And our companies are faced with a tremendous dilemma.”
Thus, he said, companies have decided to engage in the world arena, employing a principle-based approach to climate change policy. Surely, he said, in the absence of a common policy across the world, a set of principles could be used as design criteria. This change in mind-set is unprecedented, Hodge said, in that it has converted the ICMN into an agent of change.
“This is a huge step for the mining industry. Ten years ago it would not have happened,” he said. “And the driver in this case is risk management.”