By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A mineral exploration organization recently hosted the first ever virtual gathering for mining leaders and members of Indigenous communities to come together.

Hosted on the lands of the Coastal Salish peoples, the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) facilitated the ninth annual “Gathering Place” session remotely at this year’s roundup event.

The conversations and panels held by subject-matter-experts from the event covered a wide range of topics with an emphasis on building trust with one another, including: growth for the Indigenous economy, shared experiences of the global COVID-19 pandemic, reconciliation for the mining industry and communicating effectively with a world that has increasingly adopted new technologies.

Nupqu Resources president Aaron Higgs and Canada North Environmental Services general manager Peter Vanriel discussed the mutual benefits of the mining industry partnering with Indigenous communities. Nupqu Resources is a natural resource management consulting and contracting business owned by the Ktunaxa Nation communities in southeastern B.C.

“Our focus in the last few years has certainly been on trying to create a business that is independent of politics, so we can really focus on providing the most economic opportunities of value to our Ktunaxa owners and citizens,” said Higgs, who is located on the Aq’am reserve near Cranbrook.

Nupqu started in the ’80s in the forestry sector but later expanded to fields that expand to mining, which stems from a partnership between Teck and the Ktunaxa in 2016. “We saw additional inclusion in the mining sector, probably in 2012,” explained Higgs, noting there have been several opportunities for stakeholders to work in the Elk Valley.

In addition, Nisga’a Lisims Government secretary treasurer Charles Morven and Dolly Varden Silver’s chief geologist Rob Van Egmond exchanged thoughts about working together while coping with the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

AME round up attracts more than 6,000 people from over 49 countries to represent mineral exploration industry through academics, prospectors, geologists, investors and suppliers. Delegates had the opportunity to learn about more than 100 projects and prospects located in 15 countries, spanning across six continents.

Sabina Gold and Silver community liaison officer John Kaiyogana discussed the importance of reconciliation in the Canadian workforce’s mining industry. Kaiyogana is based in Cambridge Bay near Victoria Island in Nunavut, with roughly 1800 people in the region. He works directly with Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities in Cambridge Bay.

However, the Sabina Gold and Silver team says the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted effective communication with Inuit communities in the region due to the limitations of access to the internet and the quality of bandwidth in the area.

“On the reconciliation, our Inuit born people that are voted into our organizations are seeing a lot more than one partnership with other businesses in the field that they would like to be in. More education and more mining companies coming to us instead of us going to the south where people are not used to going to,” Kaiyogana said about building relationships in the territories during the panel with his peers.

Kaiyogana added it would be beneficial to see more mining companies come to the Inuit communities in the region to seek consultation and to provide training opportunities for young people from the area, so that the community is not required to relocate to other regions in pursuit of career development.

He explained that the limitation of living in Cambridge Bay often results in limited job opportunities in government or in the mining sector. He felt it would be beneficial to see other businesses building partnerships with the community and providing training to young people from the area.

Kaiyogana hoped to see more local hires and training for the community. “I wouldn’t mind seeing more of our people getting more education and more training before we get these projects up and running in our own lands,” concluded Kaiyogana.