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Ensuring fair and constructive partnerships with Indigenous Peoples

9 August 2018

Mining-related activities frequently take place on or near indigenous land. In Australia, for example, 60 per cent of mining takes place on Aboriginal land.

ICMM members want to be good neighbours and good partners – meaning the building of constructive relationships with indigenous peoples is a paramount concern. These relationships must be based on mutual respect, meaningful engagement, trust, and mutual benefit. On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2018, it’s worth reflecting on ICMM’s position statement which requires members to:
  • Respect indigenous peoples’ perspectives, rights, interests and special connections to lands and waters.

  • Ensure communities’ meaningful participation in decision-making, through engagement and consultation processes based on good faith and consistent with those they would traditionally employ.

  • Work to obtain the consent of indigenous communities.

Education, training and employment

ICMM members embrace these principles, in many cases extending them to go beyond consultation and consent. Since signing an Indigenous Land Use Agreement in 2011, for example, Glencore has worked with the Kalkadoon people to deepen its relationship, improve community development and boost employment opportunities around its Mount Isa Mines (Queensland). An AU$1.3 million programme now provides training and mentoring for local people. In partnership with local organisations including the Myuma people, the training offers skills development that can allow local indigenous people to transition into full-time roles in the business.

Newmont offers another good example. Its relationships with the Warlpiri people (Yapa) around the Granite and Dead Bullock Soak mines (Northern Territory), while subject to the Commonwealth Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, which requires mining operations have a mining agreement with the traditional owners, have led to the finalisation of a 10-year plan supporting the Yapa by boosting education and employment opportunities.

Improving the employability of indigenous peoples goes some way to supporting national efforts to address the employment challenges facing Indigenous Australians whose rate of employment has fallen over the past decade, from 48.0 per cent in 2006 to 46.6 per cent in 2016, compared to non-Indigenous Australians’ employment rate of about 72 per cent. (https://closingthegap.pmc.gov.au/employment)

Progress through partnership

Many of these partnerships aren’t new. In 2017, AngloGold Ashanti Australia and Carey Mining celebrated 20 years working together – the longest working relationship between an Aboriginal company and a mining company in Australia. Carey Mining is Australia’s largest private and 100% Aboriginal-owned mining and civil contractor. They work with AngloGold Ashanti at the Sunrise Dam and Tropicana facilities in Western Australia’s northeastern goldfields, that in 2016 produced over half a million ounces of gold.

Daniel Tucker, founder and Managing Director of Carey Mining, said: “With AngloGold Ashanti’s active support, we created something that was never done before in Western Australia and that was to create an Aboriginal contracting company to form a joint venture and perform a very large mining contract back in 1996. Back then this was unheard of and something totally new to the industry in WA. What we did then was set the stage for many other Aboriginal people to follow, starting up their own businesses and taking opportunities working on projects on country.”

Supporting communities, combating disease

In Groote Eylandt – Australia’s fourth largest island, owned by and homeland of the Warnindhilyagwa people – South32 have been working with the Machado Joseph Disease Foundation to fight this inherited neurodegenerative condition. The disease progressively degrades sufferers’ coordination and muscle control, and it’s particularly prevalent among the Warnindhilyagwa. An AU$900,000 partnership is helping to fund a local MJD Foundation headquarters, as well as pay for medical equipment, physiotherapy, and improvements to remote community service delivery.

South32 employees whose work brings them into contact with indigenous peoples are also given intensive cultural awareness and other competency training to support the management of positive corporate–community relationships. The company makes a point of engaging with and supporting local organisations working to improve life and conditions for people living around their mines and other facilities.

Overcoming disadvantage

Legislation in some countries requires mining companies to engage with indigenous peoples and, in some cases, to seek their consent before starting a mining operation on their land. But in most countries, neither indigenous peoples nor any other population group actually have a voice in projects that affect them. ICMM company members have committed to ‘work to obtain the consent of indigenous communities for new projects (and changes to existing projects) that are located on lands traditionally owned by or under customary use of indigenous peoples and are likely to have significant adverse impacts’.  ICMM’s view is that all responsible mining companies should consider free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) as a principle to be respected to the greatest degree possible.

Like the education and community programmes described, this engagement is a key aspect of mining with principles. Together, they foster respect for the rights, interests, aspirations, cultures and livelihoods of indigenous peoples.