A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) and the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) in early March 2008. The National Indian Brotherhood is incorporated under the laws of Canada and serves as the Secretariat of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). The history of NIB and the AFN is told at this link. See also this link for information about these organizations in the greater scheme of things in Canada.

Key to this MOU are these points from the statement of principles:

  • AFN affirms that the recognition of strong First Nations governments is important for sustainable economic and social development.
  • A critical element of strong First Nations governments is the availability and access to capacity and resources that enable First Nations to become self sustaining.
  • Partnerships between First Nations and other governments and the private sector will increase social and economic opportunities for First Nations.

Of great significance is this statement, also from the statement of principles of the MOU:

The PDAC recognizes the constitutionally-protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights of First Nations and encourages its members to engage with First Nations communities, respect these rights and minimize the potential for adverse impacts that may result from activities on the land.

Principles and exhortations are well and good, but what is actually to be done pursuant to the MOU? The primary “activity” as I see it, is that the PDAC and the AFN will prepare a joint two year work plan to encourage, promote and facilitate increased engagement, partnership, investment, education, and employment opportunities for First Nations, First Nations companies, and individuals who wish to be involved in the mineral industry.

This is a wise and prudent course of action. Working together in meetings, deliberations, negotiations, and report preparation must surely bring the realities to the forefront.

The success of the MOU now lies in the details of future work: needed and critical if Canadian First Nations, all mining companies, and the Canadian public are to enjoy the benefits that flow from responsible mining.

I have sat and talked with First Nations youth who wish to be involved in the mineral industry. I even posted their contact details on my blog—I never did hear if they got a job—I hope they did, for they appeared so competent.

Some First Nations groups want mining; some do not. Nothing new there. Compare Montana and Nevada to see the mature version of this dichotomy of desire. Every community has the right to decide, to protect their interests, and their economic growth. As long as there are no calls on the “central” government and its taxpayers to support a lifestyle inimical to economic growth.

There is no such thing as “return to traditional ways of life.” Whatever that meant, it is not possible in today’s highly communicative, principled world to go back to the “old ways.” Thus this MOU is to be welcomed as a step, albeit a small step, in the direction of moving forward. The reality is that we will all benefit from relations between mining companies and First Nations that is based on a rational approach, a legally-founded system, and mutual striving for selfish gain.

If this MOU succeeds it will be to the benefit of the signing parties. If it does not succeed, no matter: it is valid only for two years, after which it will be automatically renewed for another two years unless either party terminates it. Although there is another clause that allows either party to terminate the MOU upon written notice at any time without reason. This is a delicate agreement. It will take more than press releases to succeed. Let the hard work begin.