On the weekend of September 10-12, 1999, MiningWatch Canada and the Innu Nation convened a gathering of representatives from aboriginal communities throughout Canada that had been affected by mining. The Innu wanted the gathering to share what they were learning through the environmental assessment and land rights negotiations with respect to the Voisey's Bay project, but it was also an opportunity for aboriginal groups to set an agenda for MiningWatch's work with them. A general invitation was sent out, and 32 communities and organisations eagerly responded. Eighty people came.
The event was a powerful learning experience for all involved. At the end of the gathering, participants told us that this was the first time they had been in an environment where they felt safe discussing all the issues occasioned by mining development openly, since mining companies and government were not present in any significant way. (There were representatives from two aboriginal-owned prospecting companies, and one aboriginal employee of Health Canada).
The major themes discussed were:
- Land rights, treaty rights, and mineral development, and the importance of having these rights recognised before any development can take place.
- The disorganising effects on the daily life of communities created by mineral exploration and development.
- Environmental destruction: unfettered exploration, careless operation, bankruptcy, mine closures, and abandoned mines are a problem for many communities.
- The need for capacity-building in everything from law and regulatory frameworks, to metallurgy and engineering, to health and toxics issues, to coping with social dislocation and community development.
Participants expressed a lot of interest in continuing to work with MiningWatch, including participating as members and/or Directors.