Investments in the Saskatchewan communities through the supply chain

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Over 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and almost a third of the world's population still lives on the equivalent of about US$3 a day. A lack of decent work opportunities erodes the social contract underlying democratic societies: that everyone must share in progress. Sustainable economic growth depends on creating the conditions that allow people to have decent jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment.  All ICMM members implement the 10 principles that underpin our Sustainable Development Framework. Principle 9 requires companies to continually improve their social performance, and contribute to the social, economic and institutional development of host countries and communities.

When the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force in January 2016, the nations of the world committed to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Business has a significant part to play, alongside governments and civil society, in creating pathways for a greener, safer and sustainable future for us all. Metals and minerals are essential to almost all aspects of everyday life; they enable farming, healthcare, communications, construction, transport and energy and water supply. And they will arguably become more important as they help to deliver the infrastructure required for a low-carbon future. This is one of a series of case studies gathered from our members to highlight how companies are working to enhance their contribution to society and help industry to manage potential adverse impacts their activities may have on the realisation of some of the SDGs.

Orano Canada Inc. has taken significant steps to promote Indigenous employment opportunities, education and training, as well as opportunities for indigenous-owned businesses, in an approach offering benefits for all parties.

Canada’s overall population is aging, but the indigenous population is not. In Saskatchewan, the median age for First Nations people is the youngest of all at 20. Representing the workforce of the future, these young people are keenly seeking employment and opportunities, and in Northern Saskatchewan the main opportunity is offered by the uranium mining industry. 

Canada’s Indigenous peoples – a valuable and necessary human resource for the mining industry

The predominant indigenous peoples of Canada south of the Arctic are First Nations peoples, and Métis, who are of mixed indigenous and European decent.

With a median age of only 20 in provinces such as Saskatchewan (the youngest in the country), Canada’s indigenous peoples are a valuable and necessary human resource for the mining industry that has not yet been fully realised.

Between 2006 and 2011 the population identifying as Aboriginal increased by 20 per cent, compared to only 5 percent increase for the rest of the country. It is clear from statistics like these that much of the future workforce in Canada will be comprised of First Nations and Métis peoples (collectively known as Indigenous).

The Indigenous population of Northern Saskatchewan

Orano Canada Inc. is an owner and the operator of the McClean Lake uranium operation in northern Saskatchewan, and a joint venture partner in three other mining / milling operations in the vicinity. It also operates exploration programs in Saskatchewan.

Northern Saskatchewan is a large region, covering over 32 million hectares and is home to both Treaty 8 and Treaty 10 First Nations. These, and other, First Nations peoples were legally recognised under historic treaties between the federal government and the indigenous population of Saskatchewan in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.

In total, there are 48 First Nation, Métis and municipal communities that are very sparsely located in the region. First Nation communities are typically located on specific reserve lands, while Métis communities have strong and distinct historic ties to the original Métis peoples.  80 per cent of the 35,000 residents of the region’s people self-identify as indigenous.

Barriers to employment

The young Indigenous men and women in northern Saskatchewan face barriers to realising meaningful employment opportunities. .

In 2011, only 42 per cent of Indigenous people aged 25-64 in Saskatchewan had post-secondary qualifications, compared with 60 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. For those living outside the main cities, employment and business opportunities are limited.

Providing opportunities through education and training

At McClean Lake, Orano has been collaborating with northern Saskatchewan communities and their businesses since 1995 to enhance people’s employability and capacity to develop business opportunities linked to the company’s activities.

Orano has always supported local education and since 1979, has awarded annual scholarships to residents of Saskatchewan’s north. To date, the company has invested over $1,645,500 through 471 scholarships for northern students.

Orano has also recognised that investing in training locally is a win-win solution. In 2012, activities were beginning to re-start at the McClean Lake Mill and the company knew it would require qualified and trained personnel. To meet this need, Orano worked with the northern Saskatchewan communities and an independent third-party funding agency to set up training programs to develop the skills they would need under its Mill Operator Training Program.

Five years after the inception of this program, Orano continues to provide education, training and career opportunities as a means of strengthening its own operations, as well as individuals from northern Saskatchewan.

Providing employment opportunities through the supply chain

As uranium mining surged in the region, the main companies worked with Indigenous development corporations to establish key service-providing businesses for their operations.

Orano now uses a number of local contractors at the McClean Lake operation to provide many key services, such as janitorial services, security, catering, logistics, and general construction.

Beyond these key services, a northern Saskatchewan First Nation, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, saw an opportunity to establish a highly technical consulting firm, originally for the uranium mines. The firm, CanNorth, is dedicated to providing services in the areas of sophisticated environmental monitoring program development and analysis for a wide variety of clients. Currently, Orano uses this company for much of the third party environmental consulting work required at the operation.

It is essential to northern communities that jobs within all contracting companies are available to local northern candidates. Therefore, it is important to Orano that its contractors preferentially hire employees who reside in northern Saskatchewan. Within exploration activities, contractors such as drilling services are also expected to hire locally.

Orano requests that these key contractors provide monthly data pertaining to the percentage of northerners working for them.

A strong commitment to Indigenous employment and business development

The Saskatchewan uranium mining industry is the largest industrial employer of Indigenous people in Canada, and Orano contributes significantly to this. Over 2016, 52 per cent of Orano’s 327 employees at the McClean Lake Operation were northern Saskatchewan residents and 47 percent were self-declared Indigenous.

More than 85 percent of the people trained through the Mill Operator Training Program remain employed with Orano at the McClean Lake Operation.

In addition, 75 percent of the 65 security and janitorial contract workers are from northern Saskatchewan, and 80 percent of these are self-declared Indigenous.

In 2016, Orano spent over $102 million in goods and services from Saskatchewan businesses, including over $64 million from northern companies and, more specifically, $57 million from Indigenous owned companies.

A number of the businesses Orano helped foster in the early years have now expanded outside of the uranium mining industry and are providing expanded services into southern Saskatchewan and even into neighbouring provinces.

For example, Athabasca Basin Development is an investment company owned by the seven First Nation and municipal communities in the most northern part of northern Saskatchewan. The company began in the early years of the uranium mining operations, but now has investment partnerships with southern Saskatchewan and Alberta First Nations, along with acquiring businesses that provide insurance expertise.

Efforts in Indigenous-corporate relationships recognised

Recently, Orano was assessed by a third party expert regarding its engagement efforts in the area of Indigenous-corporate relationships (awareness, readiness, strategies, consultations and partnerships), and Orano was ranked against over 500 medium and large Canadian businesses. Overall, Orano ranked in the top 2% of all businesses in Canada, where consultation is the norm, partnerships are geared towards long-term sustainability, and core engagement competencies have been internalized.

Responding to Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action

In addition, Canada has acknowledged the importance of Truth and Reconciliation with its Indigenous population and a number of ‘calls to action’ have been made.

Call to Action 92 is specifically for the business community. Orano has undertaken, or is undertaking, a number of other initiatives to demonstrate its commitment towards reconciliation in general, including related to Action 92. These include:

Reinforcing and expanding Indigenous engagement

Orano is continuing to reinforce and expand its engagement with the local communities around economic opportunities in meaningful and sustainable ways.

In June 2016, the seven Athabasca First Nations and communities along with Orano and Cameco signed a modern Collaboration Agreement building on existing relationships and commercial arrangements. This is the third collaboration agreement signed with Indigenous communities since 2012.

The agreement includes a focus on workforce and business development. This will involve continuing the hiring preferences for Athabasca communities, along with career awareness programs and scholarships. Preference for community-owned businesses is also to be continued and a business advisory committee set up to ensure strategic discussions take place and business targets are achieved.

The agreement also includes specific commitments related to the protection of the environment and Indigenous engagement activities, along with financial contributions to community-directed Trust Funds.

Orano has committed to continuous improvement in indigenous employee enhancement and increased use of Indigenous businesses. The challenging economic reality has only crystalized the focus on the need to ensure that as many business and employment opportunities as possible reach the Indigenous community in a meaningful and positively impactful way.

ICMM members supporting the SDGs