A People-centric Approach to Indigenous Engagement in the Mining Sector

July 23, 2023

Recently I had several discussions with a number of exploration and mining leaders, and it became clear that from an ESG perspective, engagement with Indigenous groups followed by environmental permitting, are considered as the primary ESG “risks”. While it is important to note that ESG encompasses a broader spectrum of considerations, these specific challenges must be overcome for this sector to make progress.

Meaningful engagement needs trust

Meaningful engagement encounters a significant hurdle in the form of companies’ limited comprehension that Indigenous communities possess a profound mistrust towards them and governments. This mistrust stems from years of unfulfilled promises, exclusion from decision-making processes, and a legacy of environmental degradation.

Providing information is not engagement

Current approaches to community engagement include activities such as conducting public meetings, providing written information to a central person or “administration,” one-on-one conversations with various community members, and presentations to demonstrate evidence of a company’s commitment. However, these activities tend to be focused on fast-tracking the flow of information from the company to the community, rather than creating true partnerships or enabling meaningful dialogue.

Without people, there is no business

To establish genuine connections with Indigenous communities, companies must undertake meaningful actions that foster trust and build relationships. It is important to remember that relationships are built between people, not merely through actions or documents. Emphasizing this human element is important when engaging with Indigenous communities.

 

Key tips:

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Self-Reflection

Take the time to consider your own teams’ beliefs, biases, and experience, before you even enter a community. This is a critical step that is often overlooked.

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Educate yourself

Take the time to learn about local Indigenous cultures and beliefs, what the history of industry in the area is, and know the important cultural, governance and community practices in place.

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Understand all perspectives

Seek information on traditional knowledge and perspectives relating to the environment, land and water, environmental stewardship, cultural connection, and time.

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Engage appropriately

Learn how to engage in a harm-free way, on a community-by-community basis. Seek out good guidance and prepare properly.

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Create an Agreement

If the community is willing, enter into an agreement that outlines what is expected of all parties. Seriously consider asking them to become equity holders in your company.

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Reconciliation Action Plan

You must continuously strive to foster a meaningful, respectful, and productive relationship. Creating and implementing a Reconciliation Action Plan can greatly contribute to the building of trust and a long-term meaningful relationship.

No one wants to see graphs and charts

None of these tips recommend presenting data or graphs to showcase your company’s excellence or the benefits it can bring to the community in their traditional territory. Communities have likely heard these claims before, perhaps numerous times.

Genuine engagement with people involves recognizing their humanity. It’s important to distinguish between responding to people’s concerns with empathy and compassion, rather than using a purely technocratic approach. While many professions, including mining, tend to prioritize a rational and emotion-free workplace, relying on facts and figures for communication, it is more effective to adopt a people-centered approach.

Respect is more than compliance

Don’t rely on compliance with government processes, start relationships with respect and the recognition of rights, take the time to understand different histories, perspectives, and beliefs, and be adaptable and open to new ways of doing business.