In Red Lake, home to the richest gold mine in the world – Goldcorp’s Red Lake Complex – we have Rubicon Minerals moving ahead with plans to put its Phoenix Gold project into production next year. In Timmins, we have Lake Shore Gold ramping up to the west of the city and Goldcorp giving new life to the Hollinger Mine, which first went into production in 1910. In Sudbury, where nickel was first discovered in 1902, we have Quadra FNX budgeting $750 million for the development of its recently discovered Victoria deposit and, in Kirkland Lake, the Macassa Mine is still going strong after 79 years.
These centres of mining activity boast established infrastructure, access to skilled labour and a mature mining supply sector, not to mention peace, civility and the rule of law.
And there’s a lot more to Northern Ontario than these four centres. From Ontario’s only diamond mine in the James Bay Lowlands to the soon to be developed riches of the Ring of Fire, there’s a lot of real estate to explore and a lot of wealth to share.
Could all this be in jeopardy?
Ontario’s amended Mining Act and the regulations enforcing consultation with First Nations have prospectors and exploration companies deeply concerned, but there is also reason for optimism.
The notion of consulting with First Nations is still relatively new, but as Rob Merwin, director of Ontario’s Mining Act Secretariat, points out, “We have many examples of industry and First Nations that have been able to forge productive partnerships.”
The exploration industry and First Nations have a lot to gain by working together. The mining industry provides First Nation communities in Northern Ontario with an opportunity to escape the cycle of unemployment, poverty, addiction, hopelessness and suicide that has been their fate. At the same time, the mining industry is faced with a severe dearth of human resources (see below). There is a perfect confluence here.
Scaring away prospectors and exploration companies with excessive demands and delays will benefit no one. By the same token, paternalistic, arrogant behavior on the part of exploration industry interlocutors is guaranteed to lead to standoffs, blockades and court action.
Good will and mutual respect must prevail on both sides.
The mining industry can play an important role in the social and economic development of the First Nations, but it can’t do it alone. We see evidence of that in the community of Attawapiskat, where third world living conditions in the shadow of a De Beers diamond mine made headlines across Canada and around the world.
Reinvigorating a culture shaped by generations of welfare and despair will require First Nation leaders and government to come together to make the fundamental changes necessary for healthy, self-supporting, sustainable communities.
Only then will industry and First Nations fully realize the potential of their emerging relationship.