Building connections between First Nations peoples who have major mines on their lands

17 November 2021


Over 40 First Nations representatives from Australia, Canada and Aotearoa (NZ) have participated in an Indigenous Exchange Forum - the culmination of 12 months of collaborative research with First Nations groups whose customary lands have been impacted by mining.

Dr Sarah Holcombe

Hosted by SMI’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, the Forum sought to provide an independent and culturally safe platform to facilitate knowledge exchange, networking and building connection between First Nations peoples.

CSRM’s Dr Sarah Holcombe said the idea for the Forum emerged from the Centre’s Social Aspects of Mine Closure Consortium.

“There was a recognition of the need to establish an independent platform for Indigenous voices to be heard and amplified,” she said.

“We were planning to undertake field research on what ‘closure’ means to Indigenous customary landowners at sites in transition toward closure – but this plan was postponed due to COVID-19.

“Instead, we reached out to our Canadian and Aotearoa networks and researchers there held local discussions and developed collaborations that then contributed to the Forum.”  

Vanessa Elliott

Dr Holcombe and Jaru woman and CSRM board member Vanessa Elliott worked with researchers from Memorial University (led by Assoc. Prof Arn Keeling) and Queens University (led by Assoc. Prof Rebecca Hall) in Canada and from Waikato University (led by Prof Mere Berryman) in Aotearoa.

Together they established shared research questions to support discussions at each site and shared methods. This included establishing an Indigenous knowledge Protocol to ensure the ethical management of the knowledge shared, and that knowledge holders would keep their intellectual property. 

The Waikato researchers collaborated with iwi (customary landowning Maori groups) who have the 3 OceanaGold mines on their lands in NZ, while the team from Memorial and Queens Universites collaborated with Inuit (Raglan mine in Nunavik), Dene groups (Faro mine in the Yukon) and Tlicho groups over the Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué diamond mines in the Northwest Territories.  

Faro in the Yukon, Canada
Photo credit: Susan Drury, Canada via Wikimedia Commons

Dr Holcombe collaborated with Waanyi groups who have the New Century (zinc & silver) mine on their Country, and Vanessa Elliott held discussions with members of the Gelganyem Trust (who manage the funds and assets) of the Argyle Agreement – over that recently closed mine.        

The two-day Forum was the culmination of this work, and Vanessa Elliott - as the Facilitator - said the Forum aimed to empower First Nations voices individually and collectively, and engage their experiences and lessons learnt through online network exchange.

A report on the Forum and the other collaborative research that took place at mine sites in transition is underway and will be publicly available.

“We hope to have many more conversations and keep the network alive into the future,” Dr Holcombe said.