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A Mine of the Times

Dec 14, 2022

Previously, good news stories in the mining industry focused primarily on deposits. But today they focus more on the people – and in Northwestern Ontario, that includes the people living in regional First Nations in particular. Terms such as “reconciliation” and “social licence” are filtering into the mining language, while benefits spread out beyond the mining companies and industries to the communities and region.
Take for example the Ring of Fire Metals’ Eagle’s Nest deposit in the Ring of Fire. Many believe this to be the future of nickel production in Canada. But partnerships are needed to get these projects off the ground. If the projects are successful, these partnerships will demonstrate a new era in mining where the people in surrounding Matawa First Nations – not to mention Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario – take their rightful place as part of the success story. It will also show how partnerships such as the ones developing between Ring of Fire Metals and Outland-Horizon North can strengthen a project and help it progress.

New Mines Bring New Opportunities – for Everyone

Ring of Fire Metals’ Ring of Fire nickel deposit sparked a bidding war between two Australian mining companies: BHP Group Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, and Wyloo Metals, a subsidiary of the Tattarang Group based in Perth, Western Australia. Wyloo outbid BHP, which set the stage for a new era in mining in Northwestern Ontario. That’s at least in part because Tattarang is also known for its progressive approach to social licence in Australia.
Ryan Weston, Vice President of Exploration at Ring of Fire Metals, recognizes the importance of social responsibility. And it’s not a drain on operations as some make it out to be. Quite the opposite.
“There’s a competitive advantage to respecting the values that come with social licence and reconciliation,” Weston said. “For us, it’s more about sharing the benefits of what we do with local communities so that it is good for everyone involved.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the partnership, Outland-Horizon North has evolved over the years to become one of Northern Ontario’s largest employers of Indigenous workers and managers though the various contract services it provides. Outland has worked closely with local First Nations in five provinces over the last 23 years of successful Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) operations to produce more than 850 graduates. The organization learned valuable lessons about how to build trust with youth and inspire youth to build futures for themselves. Today, more than 50 per cent of OYEP management teams are made up of Indigenous staff who act as mentors and role models, which helps youth feel comfortable and safe.
“Each year, we see more and more children of OYEP graduates from earlier years applying for OYEP summer job positions,” said Dave Bradley, OYEP program founder and former Outland owner now focused on Indigenous Business Development and Community Relations. “We believe this is probably the strongest affirmation of the value of the experience for high school-aged youth. Ninety-two per cent of OYEP grads graduate from high school. Families want these outcomes for their kids.”
So it was only natural that Ring of Fire Metals turned to Outland to help meet its staffing needs including at Esker Camp in the Ring of Fire.
“We love the relationship we have with Outland,” Weston said. “If you think about how hard it is to get employees right now, there is more opportunity than ever for First Nations youth to get into this industry. The best way for us to help reach those workers in the shortest amount of time was to bring Outland on as a partner.”
Jennifer Morrison, Outland Regional Director of Operations, said that social responsibility is part of Outland’s DNA, much as it is for Wyloo and Ring of Fire Metals.
“We take pride in Corporate Social Responsibility being engrained in all levels of the organization,” Morrison said. “Outland wants to be a good employer, a good service provider, a good community member. We have an exciting and dynamic workplace and encounter new and interesting challenges every day.”
These are the types of partnerships that Thunder Bay CEDC Natural Resources Business Development Manager Andrew Kane likes to see being forged in the region.
“Many First Nations feel higher engagement in the economy is a vital part of reconciliation. Growth in Indigenous employment and business opportunities is a big contributor,” Kane said. “But for many natural resource companies coming to Northwestern Ontario including mining companies, they may not know what this growth could look like. Here are two companies in Ring of Fire Metals and Outland that are working hard with community partners to move the yardsticks.”


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Indigenous Participation Key in Today’s Mining Industry

It’s important to note that “buy-in” is not a one-time thing. Partnerships are key to successful mining projects at every step. In the case of Ring of Fire Metals’ Eagle’s Nest deposit, that includes its partnerships with surrounding Matawa communities. Outland plays a role in that continuing dialogue as well. Morrison sees it as a two-way street.
“It’s an opportunity for those employees coming from their communities to be stewards of their own land,” Morrison said. “Plus, they can be the eyes and ears of their community. Previously, this level of project/community integration and social licence was the exception, not the norm.”
“Ring of Fire Metals has that same view – we’ll never be successful if we don’t work in partnership with area communities,” Weston said.

Understanding History and Accepting Indigenous Ways of Knowing Helps Companies Moving to the Region

Outland’s own guiding principles are based on the idea that understanding the traumatic history of Canada with respect to Indigenous Peoples combined with acceptance of Indigenous ways of knowing and cultural norms is essential to good partnerships. Unfortunately, history shows how non-Indigenous firms have difficulty training, employing, and retaining employees from nearby communities. This is even more significant considering that exploration and mining work is happening on Indigenous ancestral lands.
“This summer, just over 50 per cent of Outland’s day-to-day operations staff and management come from communities all across the North,” Bradley said. “We have been learning organically over the years how we can work together with our clients and partners to make the workplace match the needs of the worker rather than the other way around. We have an amazing team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous managers who are responding to the needs of individuals and families both in the workplace and at home, and that is making all the difference.”
Necessarily, the company is extremely careful about where they send their employees. It has developed its own form of due diligence when matching its employees to a project.
“The last thing we want is to set back any worker in their personal healing and/or capacity-building journeys by putting them into uninformed, uncaring workplaces,” Bradley said.
Esker Camp is just the beginning, Weston said. As the project develops, so too will the relationship between Outland and Ring of Fire Metals.


Outland Employees Benefit from Partnership

Casimir Meshake is one of those people directly benefitting from the partnership between Outland and Ring of Fire Metals. Meshake, who lives in Aroland First Nation, first heard about OYEP from his cousin Travis Meshake, who took the program in 2016. So, when Outland came to Greenstone High School looking for recruits, Meshake signed up immediately.
“It was a great program, and it taught me a whole lot about mining and forestry including all about tree planting,” Meshake said.
This summer, Outland asked him to work site support at Ring of Fire Metals’ Esker Camp in the Ring of Fire: helping keep the camp clean, painting houses, and any of the thousand other tasks needed to keep the camp running smoothly. He sees similarities between the two jobs: they both involve a lot of outdoor work in the field.
Meshake will take that a step further this fall when he takes a drilling course after his rotation at Esker Camp is done. He hopes to go back to Esker and the Eagle’s Nest deposit as a driller this winter.
Crucially, it was OYEP that gave Meshake the opportunity to take his life in a whole different direction. He said that without that program, he simply would have graduated high school and “dropped out” as he puts it.
“I would have been out of school – I would have been not doing anything if I didn’t find Outland,” Meshake said. “I would have just stayed in Aroland, not doing anything.”


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Thunder Bay CEDC Plays Key Role
This partnership is just one of many happening in Northwestern Ontario right now. And, Kane said, it’s the Gold Standard for what could be happening in the region.
“Working with companies like Outland makes it much easier to connect to and partner with communities in Northwestern Ontario,” Kane said. That can happen indirectly as well, he said. “There are so many Indigenous-owned and joint venture companies, and new suppliers are launching all the time. With the coming mining boom, there will be even more opportunities in the near future.”
Kane said that his door is open to companies moving to Northwestern Ontario for mining and mining-related activities.
“The CEDC is the one-stop facilitator to help mining companies find employees, contractors, suppliers, and so on,” he said. “We’re often the bridge between government agencies, Indigenous communities, and organizations. We can help with almost every aspect from finding office space and making introductions to helping employees get settled in.”


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For this article and more visit the digital copy of: The Northern Ontario Mining Report

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