Muskens: Clash of aboriginal resource jobs vs. environmental impact

Jobs vs environmental concerns a conflict for First Nations people.

Lately I’ve seen two very significant issues facing Canadian aboriginals in the media.

The first is the Idle No More movement which is pressing the federal government to make some decisions and move forward on a number of issues such as the environment. The main issues seem to stem from Bill C-38 which redefines how we protect our environment and gives the government more power over resource development.

The other is Bill C-45 which takes into account our waterways including the Fisheries Act and once again gives the government more power to implement change.

Running parallel to this movement is such economic activity as mining exploration, future mines, and other resource sensitive issues such as Enbridge. A good example of this kind of economic activity is an area which is about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont., just below James Bay called the Ring of Fire.

This area is rich in chromium and nickel. Chromium is used to make stainless steel which is in high demand in growth sector economies such as China and India.

What’s happening in these First Nation communities is a desire by many to work for the mines, but they lack the education and skills to qualify for these jobs.

This is what happened in Attawapiskat and the De Beers diamond mine. Support to the First Nations community for education and training to meet the needs of the diamond mining economy just didn’t happen as quickly as it could have. The aboriginal labour pool couldn’t meet the needs of the employer thereby not providing the Attawapiskat community with greater economic returns.

Now Noront, a mining company out of Toronto, is keen in ensuring its mining operations can employ as many local aboriginal workers as possible. They are aiming for a 25 per cent aboriginal workforce.

The company is looking at training options instead of asking workers to have the required Grade 12 graduation.

The company would take into account previous work experience and have workers complete local training programs.

Other initiatives include summer camps that were held last year. Aboriginal youth age eight to 19 spent time learning such things as prospecting, claim staking, mapping, GPS technology and the application of environmental geochemistry.

Mining and other resource-based economies have the opportunity to bring employment into the hinterland of Canada and at the same time provide Aboriginal communities with jobs.

How the Idle No More movement will reconcile this with its environmental concerns and Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 will be interesting.

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