The fat is in the fire, as the old saying, dating back to at least the 16th century, goes. "I'm not surrendering my sovereignty for any more beads and trinkets. When mining companies come to our communities, the beads and trinkets of the past, jobs and training, that's over," aboriginal rights lawyer and academic Pam Palmater told about 100 people at an Idle No More - Northern Manitoba forum, co-sponsored by Churchill riding NDP MP Niki Ashton and the Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (TNRC) at the USW Local 6166 Steel Centre Feb. 16. "We're talking about sharing management ownership of the resource that belong to both treaty partners."
The forum also featured speeches by NDP Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton, and Clarence Pettersen, NDP MLA for Flin Flon. Palmater, a Mi'kmaq lawyer whose family originates from the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Palmater and Pettersen spoke of Pukatawagan Chief Arlen Dumas' struggle with Hudbay over Lalor Mine near Snow Lake. Pettersen says while he supports Dumas and Idle No More - Northern Manitoba, he supports negotiations between Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and Hudbay over constructing, operating, and extracting resources from Lalor Mine at Snow Lake and does not support the self-styled "stop-work order" or any blockade, such as the one Jan. 28, of Lalor by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation or Idle No More - Northern Manitoba.
Palmater's remark that "when mining companies come to our communities, the beads and trinkets of the past, jobs and training, that's over," may as well have been a dagger aimed directly at Lovro Paulic, vice-president of Manitoba Operations for Vale Canada Limited, although there is no reason to believe she would have known that at the time.
It was only last June 7 at a Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG) open house that Paulic stressed Vale's future in Thompson was dependent in a significant way on just that kind of "jobs and training" for prospective employees from local aboriginal communities, in particular for members of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation from nearby Nelson House. Paulic even mused about the need to make the road link between Thompson and Nelson House better to facilitate such employment.
"Over the years, billions of dollars in nickel have been extracted from the Thompson mine with no benefit to the trappers who held trap lines or to their families and their communities," said Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Nelson House band Coun. D'Arcy Linklater in a "personal message to my Thompson friends and neighbours" written statement distributed at the Miles Hart Bridge partial blockade by Idle No More - Northern Manitoba Jan. 28. Identifying himself as a "Spirit Walker of the White Wolf Clan, Citizen of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation," Linklater said, "The city has had a rich and well-resourced life due to the trappers' sacrifice and generosity and yet they died in poverty."
Vale, the Brazilian mining giant, is the world's third-largest mining company, and deals with indigenous stakeholders around the world. Its most recent Form 20-F, an annual report with forward-looking statements on risk factors relating to Vale's business, filed last April 17 with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, pursuant to The Securities Exchange Act of 1934, notes: "Disputes with communities in which we operate may arise from time to time. Although we contribute to local communities with taxes, job and business opportunities and social programs, community expectations are complex and involve multiple stakeholders with different interests. Some of our operations and reserves are located on or near lands owned or used by indigenous or aboriginal tribes or other groups. These indigenous peoples may have rights to review or participate in natural resource management, and we negotiate with them to mitigate impacts of our operations or to obtain access to their lands. Disagreements or disputes with local groups, including indigenous or aboriginal groups, could cause delays or interruptions to our operations, adversely affect our reputation or otherwise hamper our ability to develop our reserves and conduct our operations. Protesters have taken actions to disrupt our operations and projects, and they may continue to do so in the future. Although we vigorously defend ourselves against illegal acts, future attempts by protesters to harm our operations could adversely affect our business."
Ryan Land, manager of corporate affairs for Vale's Manitoba Operations, says "responsibility for working with aboriginal stakeholders is a local accountability … We do have global policies and we report on our sustainability performance through ICMM's Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). A community liaison committee, which consists of representatives of surrounding communities and various stakeholders, provides a forum for communicating on business updates, exploration plans, environmental impacts, community investment and any issues that arise."
This committee arose, Land says, from "our commitment to the Mining Association of Canada's Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) protocols, specific those relating to aboriginal and community outreach. Vale is measured against the TSM protocols and its Manitoba Operations have consistently scored well nationally and compared with the company's other Canadian operations," Land says. "This said, we are always working hard to maintain consistent, respectful, inclusive relationships with our aboriginal stakeholders and they have been vital, for example, in developing a Northern employment strategy that will significantly increase the number of aboriginal employees in our operation. It is worth noting that in the two quarters prior to the hiring freeze in 2012, 100 per cent of our entry-level process operator and labourer hires have been in the North, representing 11 Northern communities."