This week I was honoured to speak with Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan about the GTC’s recently signed Mineral Development Strategy.
Particularly encouraging for me in our chat was her assertion that the strategy paved the way for a sensible approach to mining developments, ensuring local employment, regulation of mining waste and an approach to sustainable development.
But more importantly, it is paramount that leaders learn from mistakes of the past and keep the resource industry in check. We have more than enough information available to see what happens when money, and not people, becomes the primary focus of development.
It’s no secret that resource extraction and indigenous peoples have not had the best relationship throughout history or even in recent memory. You don’t have to look far back in the news cycle to find horror stories about conflicts between mining companies — some of them Canadian-owned — and indigenous groups in the Amazon, including the case of a elder who was stabbed to death in Brazil last July.
Even closer to home, we are hearing about an exclusion zone set up around the Unist’ot’en camp in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia over the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline. And here in the NWT, my sister publication the Yellowknifer dedicated its editorial last week to calling for reparations for people affected by arsenic contamination from by-products of the Giant Mine in our territorial capital.
These examples show that large sums of potential riches can put blinders on those who feel they’re in reach and also show the GTC is wise in thinking ahead in how they navigate this psychology.
None of this is to call for a moratorium on mining in the area, but discretion is the better part of valour. In our discussion, Greenland-Morgan noted she was keenly aware of a number of other indigenous groups that entered into development plans without an overarching strategy in what was going to be allowed and not allowed on their lands.
In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say some may wish they had put one in place before putting ink on contracts. Otherwise, by the time you realize you should have told them to not use this area for a tailings pond, not to cut down trees in that area or not to displace important game, it’s too late.
Granted, capital doesn’t come out of thin air and to draw investment in the region, you need to entice entrepreneurs to take a risk. But I think the GTC is taking the right approach in asserting that this is your land, your minerals and your ores. It’s your gold, your rare earth metals and your children’s future.
Also worth remembering is thanks to the miracle of inflation, these resources just get more valuable as time goes on. If an international conglomerate doesn’t like the fact they have to hire local, ensure they leave the water as clean as they found it and have to be careful in planning their routes in and out of the mine — don’t sweat it.
They’ll be back.