Mining and First Nations collaboration thriving in the land of living skies

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Appeared in the Battlefords News-Optimist, March 7, 2016

We often hear about First Nation communities in Canada opposing natural resource projects. Whether it’s an LNG plant in British Columbia or mining projects in eastern Canada, the news is full of First Nation opposition to resource development. However, the one jurisdiction that may be the exception to that rule is the land of living skies, Saskatchewan.

In Saskatchewan there are countless examples of First Nations communities working in partnership with mining companies to bring projects to fruition. In fact, there are more than 45 mining partnerships between First Nations and resource companies in Saskatchewan. For example, Muskowekwan First Nation and Encanto, a Vancouver-based company, are undertaking a joint venture to develop the first on-reserve potash mine in Canada that will generate 2.8 million tons of potash annually and create approximately 1,000 jobs. Just recently, English River First Nation and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation acquired 30 per cent of JNE Welding, a company that manufactures steel vessels for mining companies. With these types of partnerships it’s no surprise that the mining sector is the largest private-sector employer of aboriginal people.

But what helps make Saskatchewan an attractive jurisdiction for mining investment from both First Nations and resource companies?

Unlike provinces such as B.C., Saskatchewan is covered by historic treaties and Treaty Land Entitlement agreements. These agreements allow First Nations to purchase Crown land anywhere in Saskatchewan to convert to reserve land, providing land certainty not currently found in provinces like B.C., where more than 100 per cent of the land is under claim with very few historic or modern treaties.

And First Nations partnerships and land certainty are two of the things that have made Saskatchewan the most attractive province for mining investment.

In 2015, as in 2014, Saskatchewan was not only the most attractive jurisdiction for mining investment in Canada but also the second most attractive jurisdiction in the world according to the Fraser Institute’s annual mining survey.

Saskatchewan is also one of the only jurisdictions in Canada where uncertainty surrounding disputed land claims is not a significant barrier to investment in the mining sector. In fact, Saskatchewan has the highest percentage of respondents across all Canadian jurisdictions that view the situation regarding disputed land claims as an encouragement to investment at 22 per cent.

The province’s standing on this measure has also been improving. Back in 2012, only 16 per cent of respondents for Saskatchewan reported that the situation surrounding disputed land claims was encouraging investment.

This positive trend for Saskatchewan stands in stark contrast to how disputed land claims are affecting the perceptions of miners in B.C. In 2013 in B.C., 69 per cent of respondents found disputed land claims to be a deterrent to investment. This increased to 73 per cent of respondents in 2014 and finally reached 77 per cent in 2015.

And it’s not just that more and more miners are finding that disputed land claims are hurting B.C.’s investment climate; it’s also the extent to which they say it’s hurting. In 2013, only six per cent of potential investors said that they would not pursue investment in B.C. because of disputed land claims. Fast forward to 2015 and this number has risen to 13 per cent.

No respondents for Saskatchewan said that uncertainty arising from disputed land claims would lead them to not pursue investment in the province, and of those who did say that disputed land claims were a deterrent to investment, the vast majority noted it was only a minor deterrent.

Through its consistent high ranking in the annual Fraser Institute Mining Survey, Saskatchewan has demonstrated that land certainty and positive partnerships with First Nations help make the province one of the most attractive jurisdictions in the world for mining investment.

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