Reconciliation in mining: It's all about relationships, says Chief Robert Joseph

'It’s always, always been about relationships, whether they’re good or developing or they’re broken'

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph speaking at Roundup

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph speaks to a sold out crowd at the Association for Mineral Exploration 2018 Roundup conference. (AME/Velour Productions)


If mining companies in Canada want to do their part in reconciling with Indigenous people, they need to focus on relationships, said Chief Dr. Robert Joseph in a sold-out address to some of the country's leading influencers.

Joseph, the co-founder of Reconciliation Canada and hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, addressed the Association for Mineral Exploration annual Roundup conference, the second-largest annual mining conference in Canada.

He said most Canadians have an interest in doing their part in reconciliation.

"You're going to have to learn — as big and little companies — how to re-establish, create new relationships," he told the audience at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday.

"Everybody around you feels they have an interest in what you do and how you impact the communities and the environment and everything else. And they want a say in how we're all going to move forward and be respectful to each other."

'How do we change that relationship'

Joseph's daughter, Karen Joseph, suggested a move toward meaningful, trusting and respectful relationships.

"People come into our territories and they take. They don't come into our territories and share. And I think when we're talking about economic reconciliation in particular, we're talking about how do we change that relationship," she said.

Panel talk at AME Roudup 2018 Chief Dr. Robert Joseph and Karen Joseph

Edie Thome, President and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration sits alongside Karen Joseph and her father Chief Dr. Robert Joseph for a talk about reconciliation in the mining industry. (AME/Velour Productions)

'We can and must do better'

Mark Edwards, vice-president of community and government relations at Teck Resources, said the mining industry has historically excluded people when it comes to sharing the benefits of its projects.

"Indigenous communities in particular were often left out and their rights and cultures not considered or accommodated when a mining development took place. But everyone here also knows we can and must do better in sharing the benefits and opportunities that mining can provide," he said, adding that Teck is currently working on a reconciliation action plan.

Robert Joseph said what's particularly promising is how companies are taking action to improve relationships with Indigenous communities without being forced to by government.


Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, a residential school survivor, poses for a photo at the 2017 Vancouver Walk for Reconciliation with two of his grandchildren. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Lana Eagle is a board member with the Association for Mineral Exploration and chair of the Aboriginal relations committee. She's played a key role in organizing discussions at Roundup.

For its sixth year the conference includes a dedicated area called the Gathering Space where public talks will continue this week. 

"I think things are improving," she said. "People who maybe even last year weren't ready to talk about reconciliation are more open to it this year ... It's not just Aboriginal people. It's not just industry. It's everybody," she said.

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