[The final post in a six part series from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]
I have never quite been able to wrap my head around the concept of working with a corporation to solve a problem that they have caused. I have always thought it to be like trying to treat a flu with the influenza itself. While the symptoms of a flu cannot be lessened by further exposure to the virus, prevention of the infection’s recurrence can be achieved thusly.
The application of this sickly metaphor to the situation of corporate-social responsibility in Timmins, Ontario is entirely appropriate. To briefly summarize the history of Timmins’ industrious past, it would suffice to say that mining is the purpose and the sustenance behind this community. The town’s geography is credited to the long stretch of mines that border the highway, making Timmins one of Canada’s largest municipalities in terms of landmass. It is as though there is something in the water in Timmins, (other than high metal qualities) that infuses residences with a passion for the mining industry.
Recently in Timmins, the remaining active mines and mill have been acquired by a massive gold extraction company called Goldcorp. As a part of this transaction, Goldcorp was required to assume the responsibility of restoring the old tilling sites, (these toxic waste pits are ecological tragedies aesthetically comparable to Mars, and chemically post-apocalyptic). In years past, Goldcorp had simply blockaded these areas, before coating these former tilling sites in a layer of spray-on grass. Standing on this softwood and straw covered property, I could sense that something was not quite right within the underlaying soil.
Before my conspiracy theories could grapple me into a Jesse Ventura-like trance for the remainder of the afternoon, we were hurried onto a bus to visit a reclaimed tilling site dedicated to the regions First Peoples.
Timmins is a city rich in cultural diversity, with approximately one third of the population being of Aboriginal descent. Here, we continued our dialogue with our Goldcorp representative Mary and her associate, Martin. Martin is a First Nations man and a traditional healer. He has decided to partner with Goldcorp in their efforts to reestablish a Native presence on the once uninhabitable land. Martin has been encouraged to plan what sounds like a retreat-oriented educational facility, where participants could participate in traditional dialogues and healing practices, such as the sweat lodge.
As much as I would love to be totally optimistic and believe that Goldcorp will fully follow through with their commitment to the First Peoples of the region, I am not entirely convinced that Goldcorp is a lone wolf in the corporate world. Canadian mining corporations are famous for disturbing the sacred lands of our First Peoples and never quite making things right (at least outside of the scope of the public eye). However, in this case, I would be thrilled to be proven wrong and see Goldcorp fully take responsibility for the irresponsible waste that has occurred and empower the region’s First Peoples to reclaim their territory.
My most realistic outlook returns to the initial flu metaphor: although the symptoms of influenza cannot be treated by the virus itself, it’s future occurrence can be prevented by it’s presence. In order for this to function in a community similarly to a vaccine, a community must work like a body to form an immunity towards the virus’ future detriment by recognizing it’s manageable presence. The community must lose it’s soft spot for sickness, and learn to stand guard against the symptoms of illness. With an appropriate presence and responsible management, Goldcorp’s mineral extraction can continue peacefully in Timmins while the First Peoples are permitted to preserve the land that is rightfully theirs.