New mining protocol would give First Nations clear right to say no: Manitoba government

A new mineral development protocol paves the way for better relations between First Nations, the two levels of government and the mining industry, its authors say.

But embroiled in its own resource dispute, Métis federation says it's been left out

Former Norway House chief Ron Evans (left), Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen and former Tory MLA Jim Downey. (Province of Manitoba)

First Nations should be consulted from the first stages of a mining project, says a new report submitted to the Manitoba government. 

The report makes recommendations for a clear process for mineral rights negotiations, with the goal of giving mining companies predictable licensing procedures and First Nations predictable compensation. 

"This will attract investment, create jobs for our communities and promote better co-operation," said former Norway House Chief Ron Evans, one of the co-chairs of the committee that created the Manitoba-First Nations Mineral Development Protocol report.

This will attract investment, create jobs for our communities and promote better co-operation- former Norway House Chief Ron Evans, co-chair

That's in stark contrast to an ongoing dispute between the Manitoba Metis Federation and the provincial government over whether the MMF had a "deal" or "agreement" for compensation for Manitoba Hydro development, which is being fought at the National Energy Board and in the courts.

The MMF on Friday took issue with what it described as the report's "attempts to exclude our Métis nation, government, companies from any benefits of the mining sector.

"The premier has dealt the Métis nation another backhand and the MMF will not stand by. This is another shameful show of disrespect to our Métis citizens," the MMF said in a statement.

In the statement, the MMF said "the Pallister government continues to deny the legal reality that the Métis nation must be fully, properly and meaningfully consulted and accommodated."

They accuse the government of trying to "muzzle concerns we have about the environment and economy in our own backyards."

The province pushed back against the MMF's position, and a spokesperson told CBC News "all impacted stakeholders and rights holders had the opportunity to participate in the process to develop the protocol." 

Evans said it's important to have rules of engagement for consulting with communities. 

The province still needs to review the report, but some of the priorities it identifies can be worked on immediately, Evans said, including building capacity on First Nations for training for jobs in the mining sector.

"It's critical the industry engage the communities early … to avoid confusion," said Jim Downey, a former cabinet minister under Progressive Conservative premiers Sterling Lyon and Gary Filmon, who co-chaired the mining committee with Evans.

Both Evans and Growth Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said there is not complete consensus among First Nations on resource extraction and some communities may decide against a project.

"You can't cookie-cut this for every mine site across the province, but now there is a process," Pedersen said.

It includes First Nations' right to say no to mining projects, Pedersen said — even when the Crown has a legal right to issue a mineral extraction permit.

"That's not a good scenario and we are not going to do that," Pedersen said.

"This will attract investment, create jobs for our communities and promote better co-operation," said Evans.