AME BC’s Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook, which has been in development for more than a year, will make its long-awaited appearance in 2014.

According to Sheriden Barnett, senior director, Aboriginal relations and land use, who, along with Rick Conte, vice-president of AME BC, has managed a working group in the development of the guidebook, the publication is for mineral Because there is a diversity of needs, the guidebook provides the resources to begin to address them. It is intended to be a living document, changing as needs and interests change, and as our understanding of effective engagement approaches evolve.”

Association members will benefit in a number of ways from the guidebook, says AME BC chair Michael McPhie. “Strategies for effective engagement historical context, the business case for consultation, and guidance on who to engage with and how. “Over the years, AME BC has played a leading role in Aboriginal engagement,” says Emery. “The guidebook builds on previous work the organization has undertaken on engagement.” In 2005, the BC & Yukon Chamber of Mines (now AME BC) published Mineral Exploration, Mining and Aboriginal Community Engagement: A Guidebook, and in 2009, AME BC published the Aboriginal Engagement Toolkit.

Barnett says many of the challenges identified and addressed in the guidebook are being faced by mineral explorers across the country and elsewhere in the world. “Canada has a rich history of treaty-making and reconciliation of the rights and interests of First Nations with those of the broader society. This history has evolved into a process that continues to the present day.”

Barnett also notes that mineral explorers and developers are on the front lines of the current approach to reconciliation, which is largely about economic opportunities and sharing resource wealth fairly. “Mineral explorers are often in a position to witness the very real opportunities available to Aboriginal communities as a result of socially and environmentally responsible mine development.” The Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook provides practical advice to mineral explorers who understand that successful mineral exploration today requires achieving a social licence to operate among the First Nations on whose traditional territories they are exploring.

“The guidebook is intended to be an honest picture of very real challenges that are being encountered in the field,” explains Barnett. “It is our attempt to assist mineral explorers in navigating through the differing viewpoints, expectations and concerns that they may face when conducting or preparing to conduct fieldwork.”

Some of the topics covered in the guide are: mineral exploration requirements in B.C. and applicable legislation and regulations; a brief summary of Aboriginal history, culture and law in B.C.; concrete guidance on Aboriginal engagement through each stage of exploration, from explorers working in B.C. or who want to work in B.C. “The purpose is to provide principled guidance and practical advice to mineral explorers in B.C. on how to conduct Aboriginal engagement throughout the exploration process,” explains Barnett.

The new guidebook represents a refocusing of the mineral exploration and development industry’s engagement efforts on the original purpose: to understand Aboriginal concerns and mitigate the potential impact of exploration activities on Aboriginal and treaty rights through effective dialogue.

“The guidebook does not provide hard-and-fast prescriptive solutions,” adds Barnett. “Each First Nation and Aboriginal group is different and each mineral exploration project is different. with Aboriginal communities are consistently ranked by AME BC members as one of the most critical issues facing the industry today. The guidebook is a practical and easy-to-reference document that will help Association members to navigate the ever-changing landscape of industry-Aboriginal relations.”

The purpose of the Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook is threefold, adds A ME BC president and CEO Gavin Dirom: “The idea behind the guidebook is to help prospectors and mineral explorers; to engender mutual respect, understanding and, ultimately, trust; and to support the development of mutually beneficial business relationships.”

AME BC director Kristy Emery, who was part of the working group that developed the guidebook, says it contains prospecting to mechanized exploration; principled guidance and practical advice for any stage of exploration; guidance on exploration-stage agreements; and additional resources.

Lana Eagle, chair of the AME BC Aboriginal Relations Committee, says the process of Aboriginal engagement takes time. “The key to engagement is to get in early and start a conversation,” says Eagle. “Even if both parties don’t agree, you can agree to talk through your disagreements. Start early and keep at it and allow your relationship to evolve.”

Engagement should be a two-way conversation. “Be forthright and manage expectations,” advises Eagle. “Don’t go in thinking engagement requires that you deliver a convincing sales pitch.” She adds that starting early and creating relationships can be time-consuming at the beginning, but is less costly in the long run.

The guidebook is intended to be an honest picture of very real challenges that are being encountered in the field — Sheriden Barnett senior director, Aboriginal relations and land use

Emery says the key elements of engagement are respect and communication. “It’s important for mineral explorers to develop direct relationships with elected chiefs and councils, band office staff, elders and youth. Spend time with all of them and find out who the influential people and the decision makers are.” She points out that Aboriginal engagement is no different from any other relationship, “so don’t become preoccupied with the legal aspects of engagement.”

Richard LeBourdais, honorary chief, Whispering Pines Band, an AME BC board member and Aboriginal Relations Committee member, says there is a simple way for a mineral exploration company to make contact with a First Nation. “After the company has decided to explore a certain area, it should contact the band’s administration to set up a dialogue with the chief and council. It can initiate the contact in writing or by telephone. Because the area in question might be culturally sensitive, first contact is extremely important.”

Barnett says the Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook is a living document and it will be updated as the relationships between industry, First Nations and government evolve over time. “Engagement is an evolving concept which needs to reflect the current thinking in law and in practice.”

She also believes the guidebook can be a model for other Canadian jurisdictions and for other industries. “Canada has always been looked on as a leader in Aboriginal engagement. The guidebook shows that we are continuing our leadership role.”