Indigenous involvement in the Canadian natural resources sector is prolific and steadily increasing. According to a 2015 report by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), an estimated 230 Indigenous suppliers provided goods and services to mining operations, and 40 percent of all Indigenous businesses were working in mining or extraction, up from 13 per cent in 2010.
There are still significant barriers to be overcome, but strategic partnerships between Indigenous communities and mining companies are providing sustainable and ethical solutions to land use and resource development in Canada.
The Golden Triangle: Then and Now
One Indigenous nation in particular, the Tahltan, is leading the way in natural resource development. Tahltan traditional territory is located in Northwestern British Columbia and makes up about 11% of the province’s landscape.
Tahltan land is rich in natural resources including minerals, which has earned it the reputation of “The Golden Triangle” by mining companies.
But the Tahltan have a rich history in mineral exploration—they have been mining their lands for thousands of years since obsidian was discovered in the nearby mountains. Modern mining in their territory dates back to 1861, when gold was discovered in the Stikine River, inciting a gold rush in the area.
The area continues to be a place of rich interest and a site of abundant production, with projects such as Red Chris, KSM, and Brucejack flourishing. Over 130 million ounces of gold, 800 million ounces of silver, and 40 billion pounds of copper have been mined from the area, and experts say that this is only the tip of the iceberg that lies untouched beneath the surface.
Koneline: An Ethos of Life and Land
As keepers of the land, the Tahltan people’s relationship to natural resources is one of shared stewardship and responsibility. The mining boom has endangered the Stikine watershed, which is a crucial life source for their people. To ensure the well-being and security of their future generations, and to remain at the forefront of decisions taking place on their land, the self-governing Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) was established to provide opportunities to Tahltan people while also serving as a watchful governing body over natural resource development.
The TNDC demonstrates that industry is inevitable, but the way in which business is conducted can be altered for the better. As Tahltan Central Government President Chad Norman Day assures, “We welcome responsible mineral exploration companies to the Tahltan traditional territory, but we also firmly believe mine development needs to be paced and developed over the long-term to ensure prosperity for future generations.”
The TNDC has been creating training and employment opportunities for its people for over 30 years. The corporation is the business arm of the Tahltan Nation and is collectively owned by the Tahltan Band, Iskut Band, and the Tahltan Central Government. Their mission statement is “Creating Industry from a Way of Life,” a means of engaging with industry through community involvement and by establishing relationships of trust, respect, and understanding.
This ethos of life and land infiltrates the history and present of Tahltan Nation, who has lived in remote northwestern British Columbia for thousands of years. They call their land “koneline,” which means both “our land beautiful” and “our mind beautiful.” By uniting human consciousness with the well-being of the land, the Tahltan are guided by a holistic and sustainable conception of industry.
The corporation partners with private mining companies to provide mutually beneficial services, as well as job creation, professional training, and local business opportunities to Tahltan people. They are currently in partnership with over 30 companies to provide contractual services to support all aspects of the mining industry: everything from construction, forestry, hydroelectric power, geothermal drilling, environmental consulting, and more. One of their significant current contracts is with Imperial Metals, which is spearheading the Red Chris mine, to provide onsite construction, maintenance, facilities management, catering, and mechanical and heavy equipment support to the project.
A Model for Responsible Mining in Canada
The TNDC is empowering Indigenous workers in many ways, but most importantly, it gives Tahltan people economic opportunities within their home territory. The TNDC also offers a suite of youth programs to its community, including culture and language enrichment, scholarships, training, and daycare. This infrastructure is crucial to empowering and encouraging young Tahltan people to participate in the natural resources development of their land. Keeping local stakeholders engaged and informed in ongoing projects is a key strategy to protecting the Tahltan land and culture while allowing its people to prosper.
One of the more robust sustainability initiatives coming out of the TNDC is the Tahltan Heritage Resource Environmental Assessment Team (THREAT). The team was developed by the Tahltan Central Government to represent the Tahltan in environmental assessment processes for resource development projects on their territory. Representatives of THREAT participate in working groups and make recommendations on behalf of the Tahltan Nation. THREAT’s involvement ensures that Tahltan values, interests, and concerns are considered in any and all potential and existing projects that take place on Tahltan territory.
The Tahltan model of self-governance and partnership provides a new vision for progressive and meaningful relationships between Indigenous peoples and the growing natural resource development sector in Canada. According to a recent report by the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, the Indigenous workforce is the youngest and fastest growing population in Canada, worth an estimated 27.7 billion to our economy. But unlike the gold and copper of the Stikine, this precious resource remains largely untapped. It has never been more timely to invest in and partner with initiatives like the TNDC to build fortified relationships between Indigenous peoples and the natural resources industry. Indigenous-led programs such as these address barriers to employment, open opportunities to listen and learn from Indigenous peoples, and advance our collective responsibility to the well-being, prosperity, and earned trust of Indigenous communities across Canada—our home on Native land.
To learn more about the TNDC and their current partnerships and projects, visit their website at www.tndc.ca.
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