Positive relationships with First Nations are critical for any mineral exploration or mining project hoping to advance and be approved for development in British Columbia. As the first ‘boots on the ground’, members of AME play a key role in building these relationships at the grassroots stage of an exploration project and can set the tone for interactions with impacted First Nations over the entire course of a project, from discovery to development.
A working understanding of the history of Indigenous Relations in Canada and of the many actions and decisions, in particular those part of the Indian Act, that impacted the people and families in the communities where we work is necessary to build modern-day relationships and strive for true reconciliation.
Over many years, the Indian Act has structured the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous Peoples since 1876, and still exists today. It attempted to assimilate First Nations people – Metis and Inuit were historically excluded – into Canadian society. Over many years, the Indian Act legislated extreme changes in the lives of Indigenous Peoples, restricting property ownership, cultural practices, and systems of government, to name but a few, and enacted the reserve system and residential school policies.
In 2015, Bob Joseph, president of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., wrote an article for his company blog that listed ‘21 things about the Indian Act’ that went viral. It received over 55,000 views on Facebook in the first month and by 2017, it had had over 200,000 views on all platforms. In 2018, Bob expanded his blog post into a book that is now a national bestseller. It spent 52 weeks on the bestseller list and won the 2019 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award in May.
We caught up with Bob to ask him about the book and the role that an increased knowledge of the Indian Act can have on reconciliation and resource development in BC.
What are the top three or four things that people generally don’t know about the Indian Act?
The top four are: that the Act still exists; its punitive nature; the ongoing, intergenerational impact on individuals and families, and; that assets on reserve are not subject to seizure under legal process making it extremely difficult to borrow money to purchase assets.
What are the implications for businesses of NOT knowing about the Indian Act?
Readers may not know that some communities have both hereditary and elected leaders or why. The Indian Act imposed municipal style elections on cultures that traditionally had been governed via hereditary leadership. The imposed system undermined traditional leadership selection, divided communities, and created a situation in which the chief was elected by the community but who was, in essence, an agent of the federal government as it is to the federal government that elected chiefs are accountable.
But some communities have maintained their hereditary leadership so have both elected and hereditary leaders. If a company is unaware of this dichotomy and which leaders are responsible for which aspects of governance, they may undertake negotiations and sign agreements with the wrong leaders and later find out that they do not have community support leading to negative media campaigns, blockades, and even legal challenges.
How does knowing more about the Indian Act make us (the mineral exploration and mining sector) better to work with?
A working knowledge of the Indian Act and what it attempted to destroy in terms of culture, connectivity and traditional consensus decision making will make the sector better to work with because members will understand why they should place the emphasis on garnering broad community support versus support with just (elected) chief and council.
With respect to mineral exploration and mining projects, what do you see as the financial and social impacts of poor Indigenous relations?
On the financial side legal fees and project development delays. A judicial review of the “adequacy and meaningfulness of consultation” can take three to five years of legal wrangling to sort out. If you have a project completion date of May 2020 and it costs you $5 million a month for every month after May 2020 in project delay fees that racks up hefty cost overruns.
On the social side, you cannot hide your poor relations because Indigenous communities know the power of social media. Investors are knowledgeable and expect the companies they invest in to be socially responsible.
Resource development projects have a role to play in reconciliation. What is a key message from the book you would like our members to know? Particularly when they are having those early conversations with a First Nation and building relationships?
The Indian Act is the piece of legislation that created the socio-economic challenges and barriers that Indigenous peoples live with on a daily basis. Begin your relationship with the understanding that your recollection of Canadian history is not the lived experience of the people you are speaking with. This will give you a better chance of at least getting off on the right foot.
Roundup 2020 will host the third annual Reconciliation Breakfast hosted by Teck Resources Limited. This keynote event is a discussion on how leaders can enable a culture of reconciliation through their work.