2 Scenario for Discussion: Safety in an Indigenous Community

Background on the Company

SilverRocks is a lithium mining company with head offices in downtown Vancouver and is trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. SilverRocks’ lithium resource is located in the brine beneath the surface of depleted oil reservoirs in Northern Alberta, though it is also developing open pit mines in eastern British Columbia and investigating geothermal energy sources of lithium. Lithium is used in batteries and in metal production and has many other lucrative applications. The fledging electric car industry holds great promise for companies such as SilverRocks.

 

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Figure 6: A depiction of sampling for lithium for future mining. (Frontier Lithium, 2021, not the company discussed)

 

Old oil reservoirs and open pit mines are sources of environmental concern and controversy for rural and Indigenous communities. Environmental impacts on wildlife habitats, waterways, and arable land must be assessed before launching new business activities and developments. As outlined in the federal, provincial and territorial governments regulatory frameworks for development, local Indigenous communities must be consulted on business activities and developments that will affect them. Through consultation, each party must share information and concerns in a way that ensures all issues are addressed and risks are mitigated from every angle. Risks can be environmental (land, water, air), land-based, financial, cultural/ceremonial, and, where applicable, risks to Treaty rights.

Indigeneity or the Canadian process of Reconciliation are not discussed as cultural or political concepts at SilverRocks, though the Indigenous perspective and consultation with affected communities is very important to SilverRocks. SilverRocks considers the company to be “objective” about their proposed developments.

Although SilverRocks is located in Vancouver and there are people of colour working there, more than 85% of the employees of SilverRocks are white, cisgender, male and heterosexual. There are a few women: a finance manager, an engineer and so on. Only Christmas is acknowledged as an office celebration.

There are no diversity and inclusion programs or policies except for the Worksafe BC-mandated one-hour training session on harassment at work. Senior leadership does not talk about diversity and inclusion in strategic planning.

Before a project meeting, when briefly talking about current Indigenous blockades on forestry roads and protests of racism by Indigenous leaders, Dale, a gay, Indigenous employee, heard someone say, “I really don’t see colour; I mean, you can be blue and have four ears, I will work with you.” Others nodded.

Background on the Employee 

The Employee

Dale is a gay, Indigenous employee who works in public relations in the head office at SilverRocks. Dale helps run community engagement in rural and Indigenous communities affected by the mining. Dale is sunny and warm with clients, with prospective partners, and at community meetings. He is able to get most people engaged and genuinely talking about the issues at hand in a solution-oriented way.

Most people at the office, although polite, do not try to befriend Dale or include him in conversations. Dale is neither out nor in the closet as a gay man at work. There is nowhere to talk about sexual orientation. Dale has low-level anxiety all the time. He does not feel safe. He wonders,

“Am I hand-talking too much?” “I better not cross my legs one over the other as that’s how women sit, not men.” “Will the wrong people here gain the information that I am gay and not take me seriously, or worse, threaten my job and/or limit career growth opportunities within the company simply because I am too different to deserve these opportunities?”

Dale’s Role as Indigenous Relations Advisor

At every project planning meeting, Dale has asked for time on the agenda to talk about how important Indigenous relations are. Dale has learned that their organization’s teams must go without a fixed agenda when they meet with local Indigenous communities. Every Indigenous community has its own protocols, and SilverRocks must adopt these ways of doing business before trust can be established. SilverRocks will work with the IT group, finance, and leadership to craft emails and other formal project communications to Indigenous communities. Communication must be sent to the right person in the community while carefully saying the right things that open and maintain dialogue. If SilverRocks offends someone and triggers the long-standing mistrust and frustration of local Indigenous communities, the projects will fail.

Dale knows that when the SilverRocks teams visit Indigenous communities, they should learn about the community’s culture, economy, and businesses; how to pronounce the Chief and Council’s names; and how to say “hello” in their local language. Each Indigenous cultural group (e.g. Stö:lo, Cree, Blackfoot, Tsimshian, Wet’suwet’en) has their own cultural protocol, such as the gifting of tobacco or salmon and/or allowing time for an opening prayer to a business meeting.

Dale knows that preparing for these meetings in this manner will allow the Indigenous representatives to listen and observe everything that is going on. And then the SilverRocks team, with their technical focus, must be ready to hear and tell personal stories to connect with the community authentically while also preparing themselves to hear all concerns as they occur.

Dale has counselled the SilverRocks team many times: If a community wants to talk about water, talk about water. If an elder wants a chance to speak but is tired and emotional today, have tea and wait for tomorrow. If youth want to speak about land issues but are not technically knowledgeable and want to speak more from the heart, the company representatives should listen and do the work of interpreting their meaning so the company can hear and understand what the community is saying.

Dale will check his own biases and expects everyone else, including SilverRocks employees and the local communities, to also assume nothing. Everyone must be open to true collaboration. This takes a lot of time and effort.

 

Image attributions

Frontier Lithium (2021). Channel Sampling for Lithium. [photo].Frontier Lithium Canada News.[photo used with permission; not the company discussed in the case]. https://www.frontierlithium.com/news

Chapter attributions

Scenario for Discussion: Safety in an Indigenous Community by Deirdre Maultsaid & Gregory John is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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