A golden opportunity for the Stk’emlupsemc te Sewepemc Nation
Successful partnerships can strengthen communities, companies and regions. That’s certainly the case for the Stk’emlupsemc te Sewepemc Nation (SSN), which represents two member bands of the Secwepemc Nation that joined forces to pursue economic development opportunities in B.C.’s interior. The SSN’s comprehensive partnership agreement with New Gold, a mining company that operates a copper and gold mine in the SSN’s traditional territory, has helped bring increased education, training and employment opportunities to the SSN people, while providing New Gold with a group of committed and dedicated employees.
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New Gold first approached the SSN in 2006 regarding the environmental footprint of its planned New Afton gold mine and the company’s plans. Workshops and community engagement sessions, including meetings with elders and youth, were hosted by both the SSN and New Gold to address the concerns of community members. These concerns included the environment, respect for the traditional territory during mine development, employment and contracting opportunities, and the financial benefits for the SSN.
““We fought for and were embedded in the Mining and Minerals Permit before the mining permit was issued,” explained Chief Ron Ignace of the Skeetchestn Band. “It puts us in a position of oversight on the mine during operation and gives us the opportunity to be involved in the planning of the operation … and to be involved in monitoring, even long after the mine has gone."
In 2008, the SSN signed a partnership agreement with New Gold that provides a framework for communication, collaboration and co-operation, and focuses on human resources and employment, education and training, culturally relevant environmental principles, business and contract opportunities and financial considerations for the bands.
These aspects become more important at different stages in the mine’s life, said Dennis Wilson, director of environmental and social responsibility at New Gold. “From the outset, when you are trying to get approvals, environmental matters are one of the most important things, both to the bands and to the site. After that period of time, when you start to build capacity within the bands to take advantage of the employment opportunities, the training and education become touchstones for issues.”
New Gold has worked with members of the SSN to help them overcome barriers to employment, including launching a training program with the BC Aboriginal Mentoring and Training Association. It’s a win for all.
“Having a good local workforce that's not likely to have high turnover, is engaged in the project, and sees the benefit of making sure that the mine site carries out its work in an environmentally responsible way is a real advantage to the culture of your site,” said Wilson.
Almost one-quarter of the employees at the New Afton site are Aboriginal, and many are SSN members. “That is a substantial number of people working there, considering that we had no history of mining,” said Chief Ignace. “From [having] no experience in mining to getting people working in a mine, [that] was a great leap forward.”
New Gold requires each new employee to attend an orientation session that explains the history and culture of the Secwepemc and the background for the Participation Agreement. It’s part of the corporation’s commitment to open dialogue.
“As beneficial as it is to have a participation agreement in place, it's even more important to do what you can to develop that relationship with the First Nations by maintaining open and honest communication,” said Martha Manuel, First Nations coordinator at New Gold. “The participation agreement is just a document. What you need to do is work on the relationship, and it doesn't say that anywhere in this agreement. If you want a relationship to work, you have to work on the communication and have integrity in that relationship.”
Read the full story on the Aboriginal Business & Investment Council website, and read more about B.C.’s mining sector.
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