Northern Manitoba chiefs are upset with what they deem to be failure by the provincial government to ensure First Nations get a fair share of jobs and profits from mining activity.
Manitoba Keewantinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief David Harper joined with Mathias Colomb Cree Nation Chief Arlen Dumas and Red Sucker Lake First Nation Chief Larry Knott on March 22 to give the province a failing grade.
“MKO developed frameworks to implement the Crown’s duty to consult more than 21 years ago and right after the Supreme Court’s landmark Sparrow decision,” said Harper, “the duty to is a priority in the MOU that MKO signed with Manitoba’s Mines Minister in 1999 and in the MOU with the Minister of Conservation in 2005. The province has failed to establish the Working Group processes promised in both of these MOUs.”
The chiefs met with federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and asked him to pressure the province. Mention was made about a proposed uranium exploration project put forward by Chinese investors in 2008 in northwestern Manitoba that did not proceed.
“They were just going to hire two or three snowmobiles to transport goods into the mining site, but they were going to bring in their own workers to come do the work, which is totally unfair,” said Harper.
The group of chiefs said that the provincial government could take a lesson from their own hydroelectric Crown corporation. Manitoba Hydro is currently constructing the Wuskwatim Generating Station, west of Thompson, in partnership with the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), which has a 33 per cent stake.
“Those are the types of things that give (us) the opportunity that we can succeed,” said Ron Spence, a band council member of NCN.
Manitoba officials say they are already working to ensure that aboriginal people will benefit from mining, and pointed to the San Gold mining operation near Bisset, Manitoba.
“The largest gold mine we have, San Gold, employs 50 per cent First Nations,” said Mines Minister Dave Chomiak, “and those 50 per cent are making six-digit figures.”
Manitoba and the federal government owe a constitutional duty to consult and accommodate First Nations whenever a proposed action or decision may result in an impact or infringement of an aboriginal or treaty right. Section 8 of Manitoba’s Interpretation Act requires provincial officials to apply all provincial laws so that aboriginal and treaty rights are not infringed.
“The province’s mishandling of the duty to consult is the main reason mining companies downgraded Manitoba to 20th place behind countries like Botswana and Chile,” said Chief Larry Knott, the province applies bare minimum standards on consultation and makes up the rules as they go, while trampling our rights.”
Knott also says that mining companies routinely bring in workers for exploration and development of the region’s gold, nickel and other minerals. The MKO want the Manitoba government to make sure any development includes guaranteed benefits for aboriginals.
Chomiak says that the government has boosted training for aboriginals through apprenticeship programs and a mining academy established last year in Flin Flon with HudBay Minerals.
“We know that in the future there is going to be thousands of people needed in the mining industry,” said Chomiak, “that’s why we’ve put in all the training opportunities; to ensure that people in the North and First Nations have an opportunity to get these jobs.”