Exploring the Possibilities of Corporate-Indigenous Relations as a Strategy for Decolonization and Reconciliation

Dream catchers

The resource sector is uniquely dependent on positive relationships with northern Indigenous communities. And the corporate private sector is learning that it takes time to build trust and co-create healthy relationships with these communities ; that relationship building cannot be rushed, and the corporate private sector must be willing to work at the community’s pace. Likewise, northern Indigenous communities are learning how to reconcile their own values and cultures with industrial activity and corporate business practices. Many of these northern Indigenous communities are realizing that consciously building sustainable business partnerships with the corporate private sector can, in fact, be a powerful form of decolonization and sustainable community development.

Building Successful and Sustainable Partnerships for the 21st Century: Exploring the Possibilities of Corporate-Indigenous Relations as a Strategy for Decolonization is a long-term research project that takes a strengths-based approach to unraveling the complex history and current issues related to Indigenous Peoples and natural resource development in the North.

This long-term research project explores the elements of successful and sustainable Corporate-Indigenous relations in the North: why, how and what are the benefits of building these types of relationships? I hope to publish the results of this results on this website as they emerge. And eventually, collate the lessons learned into a book that offers insights from both the corporate private sector and northern Indigenous communities about what is required to sustain meaningful partnerships.

The increasing development of major resource development projects into remote areas of the world is a source of concern for Indigenous Peoples across the globe. The potential negative impacts of these projects on the livelihood, lands, and futures of these Indigenous Peoples cannot be understated. In fact, under pressure from international organizations, civil society and many national governments, the Natural Resources sector has begun to develop mechanisms for addressing indigenous people’s’ concerns and formalize relations with these traditional land users and owners. International organizations, like the United Nations, are also now embracing Indigenous rights policies that promote the concept of free prior informed consent (FPIC). These policies require that any parties interested in development in Indigenous territories need to enter into equal, and respectful relationship with Indigenous communities. These relationships should be based on a principle of informed consent that recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, resources and respects their legitimate governing authority.

Canada continues to be one of the world’s most active mining countries, ranking among the top five global producers for several major minerals and metals. Mines also play a significant role in sustaining many of Canada’s remote, rural and northern economies. The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) in fact estimates that as many as 115 communities are dependent on mining activity for local wealth and economic development. According to MAC, jobs in mining account for one in every 55 Canadian jobs.

The recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights is now a major part of the review of mining project proposals in Canada. Given the close proximity of mineral exploration activities and mining operations to Aboriginal communities and that mining activity may take place on Crown lands used by Aboriginal Peoples for traditional, cultural, and spiritual activities, Aboriginal engagement in the review of mining proposals has become a requirement. According to Natural Resources Canada, there are about 1,200 Aboriginal communities within 200 kilometers of mining activities.

This research will explore three interrelated issues: Can the Natural Resources sector in Canada’s North be used as a model for building successful and sustainable international corporate-Indigenous relations? What can we learn from the insights and perspectives from both the corporate private sector and northern Indigenous communities about major challenges associated with sustaining these partnerships? And how do Corporate-Indigenous relations provide a legitimate and powerful avenue for meaningful decolonization in Canada and elsewhere?

In 2015, I received a small generous grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Reasarch Council of Canada to conduct research on a synthesis of existing research knowledge relating to explore "What effects will the quest for energy and natural resources have on our society and our position on the world stage?" My research focussed on examining the notion of  “social licensing” and corporate-Indigenous relations and its role in supporting responsible resource development projects in Canada's North. The completed research is available in the report: Social licensing in major resource development projects: Corporate–Indigenous relations, Aboriginal rights, and responsible resource development in Canada's North. SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Final Report. 

 

photo credit: Nate Eul Dream Trap via photopin (license)

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