An agreement could be in the works to allow Manitoba's First Nations greater say -- and jobs and revenue -- from mineral exploration and mining on their lands.
Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak said seven chiefs have so far agreed to work with the province and mining companies to come up with a revenue-sharing agreement for future development.
"It could be a breakthrough with some of the consultation and differing issues that we have been dealing with," Chomiak said in an interview.
The agreement comes after several years in which a number of mining projects stalled because of the lack of a formal process that allowed First Nations to participate.
Chomiak said Fisher River First Nation just recently signed a deal for it to be consulted on a mining project.
However, at the same time, Red Sucker Lake First Nation recently asked a gold mining company to leave its land despite the company's sinking about $2 million into the project, Chomiak said. The matter went to court, with Mega Precious Metals Inc. being allowed to continue exploration.
Frustration from the First Nation at what some described as a lack of jobs or training and growing environmental concerns prompted band leadership to terminate a memorandum of understanding with Mega.
Chomiak said he hopes a revenue-sharing model is developed by as early as the end of the year.
"I think we've going to have an opportunity to go forward," he said. "They want jobs, they want revenue, they want opportunities.
"And the mining companies are onside."
The chiefs are Norway House Cree Nation Chief Ron Evans, Chemawawin Cree Nation Chief Clarence Easter, Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donavan Fontaine, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Chief Jerry Primrose, Mosakahiken First Nation Chief Phillip Buck, Marcel Colomb First Nation Chief Andrew Colomb, and God's Lake Narrows First Nation Chief Gilbert Andrews.
Chomiak plans to meet with more chiefs over the coming days to include them in the process.
Manitoba's chiefs have said previously the province is missing out on millions of dollars worth of development by leaving their communities out of mining deals. The chiefs blamed outdated provincial mining laws that ignore aboriginal consultation.
Earlier this year, a report from the right-leaning think-tank Fraser Institute ranking jurisdictions' relative attractiveness to mining companies said Manitoba is becoming a less desirable place for the mining industry.
The Fraser Institute ranked Manitoba 21st out of 96 jurisdictions worldwide in terms of its investment environment. Manitoba has been gradually slipping down the rankings after grabbing the No. 1 position as recently as 2007.
The report said uncertainty over aboriginal land claims is a concern, along with the government's promise to set aside protected areas that have yet to be determined.
Chomiak said one issue is a fledgling mining project hasn't made any revenue yet so it can't give a First Nation compensation upfront.
"The idea is how do you work out the kind of model that allows for capacity-building," he said.