How can aboriginals in Canada take advantage of mining and energy opportunities without being taken advantage of?
The answer, numerous speakers said on the first day of the International Indigenous Energy and Mining Summit, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, lies in partnership, mutual respect and a clear spelling-out of goals on both sides.
The lands of aboriginals, especially in Canada, sit atop a wealth of mineral resources, and the recent passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has given them more say than ever in how their lands are used. Aboriginals are both stewards and gatekeepers now.
But no one said this more forcefully than Ernesto Sirolli, founder of the nonprofit economic development organization the Sirolli Institute, who gave attendees an earful on the necessity of listening to and partnering with aboriginal communities rather than dictating terms and ignoring long-term development goals.
“We are either patronizing or paternalistic,” he said of corporate treatment of aboriginals. “We either treat you like children or we treat you like subjects.”
The true answer, he said, is to partner in development initiatives that will last longer than the ore.
“You have to become a partner in the community,” he said. “You’ve got 30 years of ore. From the moment you arrive, you have to work with the leadership and the people … so that when you go away the community is better off than when you showed up.”
Must help create initiatives “that will leave the community capable of surviving when you shut down the mine,” Sirolli said. “So it is not about the 200 jobs that you will create. You must honestly engage in community development.”
Everyone, he said, has the same desire: to make the world better for their children. And the best way to learn how each community feels that can be accomplished, he said, is to make sitting with and listening to them a top priority.
Sirolli’s lunchtime address on the first full day of the summit, which runs from June 27 through June 29, seemed to sum up the goal of the conference, which is to forge new ways of doing business between aboriginals in the U.S., Canada and abroad. In the past, companies and governments often rode in and did what they wanted. The results of that method are visible in abandoned mines everywhere. Participants from the U.S., China, Brazil, Germany and the Canadian private and public sectors are discussing best practices and partnership opportunities, the AFN said, as well as establishing a Virtual Institute of First Nation Energy and Mining. Indigenous delegates and representatives from Brazil to Nunavut are also in attendance, reaffirming their rights to participate in natural resource development, the AFN said.
“Consistent with First Nations rights and our responsibilities as stewards of the land, we will begin to chart a new indigenous economic relationship where First Nations can and will take the lead to build our own economies and contribute to Canada’s economy in ways that respect the environment and provide a sustainable future for all Canadians,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement. He is co-chairing the summit with Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). “We will begin to chart a new indigenous economic relationship where First Nations can and will take the lead to build our own economies and contribute to Canada’s economy in ways that respect the environment and provide a sustainable future for all Canadians.”
The event is being webcast at Nationtalk.ca.