Frequent advice given to explorers stepping onto new ground anywhere in British Columbia is to “engage early and often” with local First Nations. What does engagement look like in practical terms? While there are dozens of options, one important and simple first step is to seek out and introduce yourself to any employment and training officials working on behalf of First Nations bands in your area.
Nicole Johnny is the Employment & Training Manager for the Citxw Nlaka’pamux Assembly (CNA), which represents eight First Nations bands in and around Merritt in southern British Columbia. The CNA was formed to manage and administer the eight participating bands’ commitments in the participation agreement with Teck Highland Valley Copper (HVC) Partnership and Economic Community Development Agreement with the province.
“Take the time to build true, honest relationships and use liaisons like myself who have spent years building rapport with the whole community to help you build those relationships,” advises Johnny.
Johnny’s primary goal is to give her clients, hundreds of band members, an opportunity to connect with HVC in the hopes that they can find long term employment. Looking ahead, Johnny, together with the CNA Territory Stewardship Department, is expanding to establish agreements and working partnerships with exploration companies too.
Across B.C., employment and training advisors like Johnny are working to connect First Nations with work opportunities in various industries and professions. For explorers, the benefits of connecting with these professionals extend beyond access to a local workforce. It opens channels of communication through the workers, shows the company’s culture, and contributes to building relationships within the community.
These connections proved invaluable for Dolly Varden Silver Corporation this year. In March 2020, Dolly Varden’s President and CEO, Shawn Khunkhun – in the role for less than a month! – was concerned that the team would not be able to go in the field safely to continue on their advanced exploration project near Stewart in northern B.C. Local Nisga’a citizens make up one-third of the workforce at the Dolly Varden project.
But, after the B.C. government deemed mining and mineral exploration essential services, the Dolly Varden crew teamed up with Gary Patsy, their liaison at the Nisga’a Employment, Skills and Training (NEST) to come up with a safe plan to get Nisga’a citizens back to work.
“Particularly this year with COVID,” says Khunkhun, “Gary really facilitated those conversations and that communication so we could understand that employment was important, that getting people up and working was important but doing it safely was the key. If it were not for him, I’m not sure what this season would have looked like.”
Working with established employment and training advisors is a simple first step for explorers looking to build a strong relationship with First Nations in their area of interest. Says Johnny: “Utilize someone who’s already spent years building that rapport with the whole community. We’re here to help our members, and through that relationship, you’ll be helping yourself and our members.”