Working with Indigenous Communities
Mining activities can change landscapes and the effects of these impacts can be particularly significant for Indigenous communities who have cultural and spiritual connection to the land. As greater clarity on Indigenous rights and title is developed in Canada and beyond, it has become essential for mining companies to recognize the unique perspectives, concerns, and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples near mining projects. New Gold’s vision is to be the partner of choice for Indigenous communities, as this reflects our values and is critical to our business success.
New Gold’s Canadian sites are located in areas that are in or adjacent to Indigenous Peoples’ territories. We have built strong relationships with First Nations and Métis communities in the areas where we work. These relationships influence the way we work and are critical to the success of our business.
Description of Impacts
Mining activities can have positive and negative impacts on Indigenous and non-Indigenous people near our operations. On the positive side, our activities often bring employment and economic development, education and training opportunities, and investments in broader community infrastructure and development. Negative impacts can include the alteration of landscapes, creation of environmental risks, and disruptions to established social structures.
When it comes to collaborating with local Indigenous groups, New Gold’s approach is to be respectful and inclusive as we work to understand the values, goals, and concerns of the Indigenous communities near our areas of exploration, development and operation. We engage local Indigenous Peoples and aim to integrate their perspectives into company decision-making throughout the mining life cycle. We also work to create lasting benefits that respect their unique interests and aspirations. We continuously work to further develop our relationships with local Indigenous communities, as well as with other Indigenous organizations, and identify ongoing opportunities for collaboration.
In 2017, we reviewed our approach to Indigenous relations to ensure our values are reflected in our practices, and this resulted in the assignment of specific responsibilities within our Environment and Social Responsibility Department. Also in 2017, we joined the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), an organization dedicated to fostering sustainable business relations between First Nations, Inuit and Métis people and Canadian businesses. Our membership in CCAB will help us benchmark our practices and strengthen our relationships with like-minded organizations and peers.
Indigenous Relations Strategy
A big achievement in 2017 was the development of our Indigenous Relations Strategy, which sets out goals under five pillars to guide our ongoing work to build and maintain respectful relationships with the Indigenous communities near our operations. These goals reflect, and are a continuation of, many of our long-established practices in Indigenous relations.
At New Gold, we seek to engage early and respectfully. We believe these principles are the cornerstones of developing mutually beneficial agreements that reflect the unique priorities of each Indigenous community – agreements that will ultimately address the needs, concerns, and aspirations of these communities.
At New Afton, we collaborated with local Indigenous communities to establish an industry-leading Participation Agreement in 2008. This has guided First Nations involvement in our operations including providing input to approaches for environmental stewardship, business opportunities, employment, education and training, and community investments.
The Rainy River Mine is located near 16 First Nations and the local Métis Nation of Ontario community councils. By early 2018, New Gold had signed a total of eight agreements with First Nations and the Métis Nation of Ontario. These will provide a framework for ongoing dialogue on all matters related to the mine and establish mechanisms for communities to benefit from related employment, training and procurement opportunities.
Our experiences at New Afton and Rainy River are being reflected in our approach for engaging with First Nations at our Blackwater project. In 2016 and 2017, we hosted guests from the First Nations communities from around the Blackwater project for a five-day tour of our Rainy River mine, to give a better sense of our activities and approaches to environmental stewardship and relationships with Indigenous Peoples. These guests toured our construction camp, water treatment facility, and several other areas of the site. They were able to witness the potential physical impacts and the opportunities associated with social and economic development. Members of local First Nations and Métis communities shared their experiences working with New Gold. These guests also attended several meetings, including some focusing on business development, employment, training and environmental monitoring. The objective was to provide an opportunity for the guests to form their own understanding and impressions of our activities and approaches, based on first-hand knowledge.
As we begin our first full year of production at the Rainy River mine and complete the environmental impact assessment process for the Blackwater project, New Gold continues to prioritize our relationships with local Indigenous communities and looks forward to a continuation of the positive and collaborative approach to communication taken thus far.
At New Gold, we are committed to developing the skills of Indigenous employees by supporting their career development and advancement through training and education. We also support the educational goals of local Indigenous communities and offer education and training to folks that are not currently part of our workforce. This builds the foundation to achieve our objective of hiring individuals locally whenever possible, as well as supporting the broader educational goals of the communities that host our operations.
While we strive to continuously improve, we also celebrate some of the successes already achieved at our Canadian sites. In 2017, at the New Afton Mine, about 23% of the workforce were Indigenous. At Rainy River, more than 30% of our workforce was Indigenous during the construction period. However, as we transition into production, the percentage has declined to just over 26%. Heading into 2018 we’re working with a local Indigenous training institution to provide targeted essential skills training, while addressing other potential barriers to employment in the area to increase the participation of Indigenous People in our workforce.
An example of success is the Apprenticeship Program at New Afton. Each year, New Gold considers training opportunities that will enhance the partnership with local First Nations, including the Skeetchestn First Nation. In 2017, the Skeetchestn and New Gold jointly funded an apprenticeship opportunity for one band member, who is successfully working towards his Red Seal trades designation.
In 2017, we also renewed our partnership with Indspire, a not-for-profit organization which aims to inspire Indigenous achievement and works with Indigenous, private and public sector stakeholders to educate, connect, and invest in Indigenous people. Following a successful educational program started in 2014, which awarded bursaries to 17 Indigenous students (including 13 women), New Gold will continue to provide educational awards to post-secondary Indigenous students through the Indspire Building Brighter Futures Program. For this next round of the program, there will be a renewed focus on female students and on sciences, technology, and math.
In 2017, we also started the collaborative development of the New Gold Guidelines for Indigenous Employment and Training. These guidelines will help our sites facilitate the identification, assessment, and hiring of Indigenous Peoples. The guidelines will describe ways to advance Indigenous employees through continuous development of skills and career development support.
Looking forward, we’ll be focused on finalizing the New Gold Guidelines on Indigenous Employment and Training and will implement supporting training at sites. We plan to review our Donations and Sponsorships Strategy to support capacity building and education of local Indigenous communities, and will continue to manage the Indspire New Gold Bursary Program to maximize First Nations and Métis community members’ benefit from bursaries and other Indspire programs.
Local Economic Development
To get the best results out of our efforts in this area, New Gold has hired specialist professionals to assist us in identifying business development opportunities for Indigenous communities at New Afton and Rainy River mines as well as the Blackwater Project. Our efforts are focused in understanding how we can best develop opportunities for local procurement and work with Indigenous business owners and Band Business Development Officers to make their ventures more sustainable over time. At the forefront of these efforts will be a requisite focus on maintaining two-way communication between businesses and our sites in relation to business requirements, contract opportunities, and capacity building programs. We plan to continue to work with contractors to support the diversification of services offered, as well as the clients to whom these services are offered (beyond New Gold), in order to build economic resiliency and avoid creating a dependency on New Gold for business opportunities. See the Contributing to Sustainable Community and Regional Development tab for more information on our approach to – and performance in – this area.
We are sensitive to the reality that Indigenous Peoples have historically faced significant barriers in accessing employment opportunities and training across all sectors. While we still have more to do, in order to continuously improve, New Gold has made significant efforts to eliminate these barriers by hosting career fairs in local Indigenous communities, supporting local employment agencies, providing the option for applying for jobs on-line and at-work training programs.
To ensure a respectful and inclusive workplace, New Gold is committed to ensuring cultural awareness skills are developed within Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees and contractors. All our Canadian sites carry out cultural awareness training and we work to ensure that dedicated, confidential, and culturally-appropriate support exists for Indigenous employees at our operations and projects. For example, to ensure that our expectations in this regard are understood at the earliest possible time, cultural awareness training was carried out as part of the onboarding process for all employees and contractors at our Rainy River Mine. This training was developed in partnership with, and is delivered by, local First Nations from around this mine.
Looking forward, we plan to develop and implement a New Gold Cultural Awareness and Competency Development Program across the company, including for our corporate senior management and Board of Directors.
New Gold supports and encourages local Indigenous communities to participate in environmental audits, committees, and reclamation projects. The Indigenous communities around our sites provide their valuable traditional knowledge to create a more informed and holistic approach to planning our activities and managing the environment impacts at our sites. For example, at New Afton, the Environment Team participated in a training workshop hosted by Tk’emlups, called “Exploring Wellness through our Sacred Connection to Water”. This offered an opportunity for Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers to share their teachings in relation to their sacred connections and responsibilities to the water.
At Rainy River and New Afton, Environmental Monitoring Boards (EMB) are in place, allowing local Indigenous communities to provide input into key aspects of environmental management. This collaborative approach plays a crucial role in appropriate and successful project development. Looking forward, we will be focused on increasing internal sharing of best practices and lessons learned across our sites, particularly in regards to the development and implementation of EMBs.