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Through engagement between mining and exploration companies and community stakeholders, mineral projects in Canada’s northern and remote communities can help to enhance socioeconomic well-being.Supplied

How can northern and remote communities go about improving economic outcomes, for example, through meaningful employment and business and education opportunities? How can they create a better economic reality while staying true to their values and traditions?

Mineral exploration and development can provide answers to these questions, especially when the voices of community stakeholders are included in the decision-making process, proposes Glenn Nolan, VP, Indigenous Enterprises, Ring of Fire Metals, a mining company involved in multiple projects in the Ring of Fire area in the James Bay Lowlands of northern Ontario.

“I’ve seen many communities – including my community – change for the better when they participate in resource projects,” says Mr. Nolan. “Since these projects are typically tied to a specific geographic area, it is important to build long-term relationships between mining companies and communities.

“When there is mutual support, all parties can prosper.”

Community engagement, done right

The engagement process has to start with an exploration of “common areas of interest,” says Mr. Nolan. Understanding how communities are impacted by a particular project – and exploring how companies can work with communities to advance their vision related to the land – can help to build consensus.

For a recent Ring of Fire project, for example, community feedback inspired the organization to pivot plans from an open-pit operation to an underground mine, he notes. “Although an open-pit mine was feasible for our project, we decided to design an underground mine instead, because that’s what the community wanted to see.”

Inviting community input for resource projects has become common practice in Canada, and Mr. Nolan, who is a former Chief of the Missanabie Cree First Nation and volunteers with the Indigenous Affairs Committee of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), welcomes this development.

“Even 25 years ago, discussions around Indigenous participation were rare. At the time, companies were more interested in just telling communities what they were planning to do rather than having an actual dialogue,” he says, adding that notable exceptions included a historic impact benefit agreement (IBA) in 1992.

Today, communities are becoming “much more aware of the potential impact of resource exploration and development on their traditional territories,” he notes, “and how outcomes can be enhanced through careful planning.”

The power of role models

The increasingly collaborative approach to resource development has also led to a change in how community members participate in the industry. “Mining companies have always hired local people, but their work was traditionally limited to entry-level positions,” says Mr. Nolan. “Compare that to today, when we have many Indigenous men and women in professional roles, including engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers and executive leaders, all working in this industry.”

Role models also played an important part in Mr. Nolan’s choice of career. “My first role model was my father,” he says. “He was a hunter gatherer who started working in the industry on occasional projects. He then completed his grade 10 education, which enabled him to train in welding and mechanics, and move to a full-time position.”

Another mentor introduced Mr. Nolan to field work during his post-secondary education in geology. “From my family, I knew what working in a mine could look like,” he says. “But now, I understood that I could do my work while being out in nature, which has always been important to me since I was young.”

"It goes beyond having Indigenous people participate – the industry has to make an effort in supporting the role models of the future.

Glenn Nolan
VP, Indigenous Enterprises, Ring of Fire Metals

An avid reader of National Geographic, Mr. Nolan has always been mesmerized by images of wild places, like “jungles, deserts and the Arctic.

“I wanted to explore environments like these, and my career in mining allowed me to do that,” he says. “I spent time in all kinds of areas, including the high Arctic.”

Increasing diversity and inclusion can also serve the mineral industry in efforts to attract and retain talent, he adds. “It goes beyond having Indigenous people participate – the industry has to make an effort in supporting the role models of the future.”

Towards a brighter future

Going forward, communities will have an even greater stake in working with resource exploration and development companies as a means of enhancing socio-economic well-being, Mr. Nolan says. “Long-term benefits go well beyond the operation of a mine to include education and training and business opportunities on the supply and service side of things.”

Windigo Catering, for example, started as a catering service for the Musselwhite mine, a gold-mining operation located approximately 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. Since then, the award-winning First Nations business in Sioux Lookout has expanded services to other mining camps, hospitals, lodges, correctional facilities, youth centres and more.

“Windigo Catering is no longer 100 per cent reliant on the Musselwhite mine, which incidentally was part of that first IBA in 1992,” says Mr. Nolan. “Thirty-one years later, the mining operation is still going, the catering service is still hiring, and both are creating impact for the community.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.