by Greg Klein
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Over 6,700 participants from 35 countries descended on Vancouver to give Roundup 2015 the fourth-largest crowd in its 32-year history. Promotion, deals and networking thrived, but so did the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia’s education and outreach programs. Prominent among them was Gathering Place, a four-day dialogue in which miners, natives and others tackled tough issues as the industry undergoes a cultural transformation.
Generalities and platitudes flowed freely. But discussion could be candid too. Some company reps outlined specific policies to bring aboriginals into mining and exploration while natives suggested further courses of action. While acknowledging the seemingly slow pace of progress, one CEO maintained, “If you look back 25 years ago and look where we are today, I think you’d probably describe it as a revolution.”
Among the success stories would appear to be Kaminak Gold’s (TSXV:KAM) Coffee project. Now moving towards feasibility, Kaminak reached out to local communities in 2010, soon after optioning the Yukon property and prior to staking additional claims.
“We wanted to know if there were trap lines in the area, we wanted to know if there were any cultural or sensitive areas, or any historical areas that we need to be aware of,” explained Allison Rippin Armstrong, Kaminak’s VP of lands and environment.
Natives alerted the company about nearby gravesites, which Kaminak then excluded from staking. “That early engagement helped us avoid what potentially could have been a very distressing situation,” Armstrong said. The company funded a heritage resource study for reference when planning exploration. Environmental monitoring also began in 2010 with the help—and input—of employees from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in first nation (TH). The natives, who’d already signed a land claim agreement, have traditional territory covering Kaminak’s deposit.
The project currently has three TH environmental monitors working with consultants who collect data at the site. The monitors also help “develop and define the baseline programs so they come from a first nation community perspective as opposed to just a purely scientific perspective,” Armstrong emphasized.
As Kaminak president/CEO Eira Thomas told a panel discussion, the company solicits native concerns during its environmental work. By the time Kaminak files a permit application, she hopes those concerns will be addressed.
In another forward-looking precaution, Kaminak provides pre-season work plans to first nations for input and review. An exploration and co-operation agreement signed with TH in 2013 includes a conflict resolution process.
Kaminak has also developed a program of modular training, involving flexible courses that can be scheduled around work and other commitments. The courses don’t require a high school diploma yet could lead to university studies, Armstrong said.
A partnership with Yukon College will bring about two pilot courses this year to prepare TH citizens for skilled jobs. “If and when our mine gets built, the entire environmental department will be TH citizens.”
Fewer specifics came from a panel discussion involving the heads of four companies with mines or advanced-stage projects.
New Gold TSX:NGD president/CEO Robert Gallagher did point out that certain contracts at the company’s New Afton mine in central B.C. are restricted to first nations businesses. Natives make up 23% of the mine’s employees. A plan to team up aspiring aboriginal businesses with experienced joint venture partners, however, failed to transmit skills from one company to the other.
Then New Gold brought in a business development director. “He works with the first nations to develop the skills and put training in place so they can really learn the business,” Gallagher said. As it stands now, the new business still works with a JV partner. But New Gold plans to eventually split the contract between two former partners as the JV ends and a standalone native-owned company emerges.
An aboriginal business owner in the audience urged companies to train natives to adapt to camp life. “If you don’t train them the right way, you’re just wasting money because it’s a Jerry Springer show every night after supper in the rec room.”
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