A three-year partnership between OceanaGold and the University of Queensland (UQ) has included looking into the impacts of mining and mine site closure on First Nations People. The result – one of the first globally recognised industry research papers that affirmed, connected and elevated the voices of Indigenous leaders.

More than 40 First Nations people and affiliated researchers from across New Zealand, Canada and Australia came together last November to discuss the impacts of mining and mine site closure on their lands.

The Indigenous Exchange Forum: Transitions in Mine Closure was the culmination of many discussions by the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium, of which OceanaGold is a founding member.

The Consortium was established in 2019 to conduct research that challenges accepted industry norms and practices and demands new approaches that place people at the centre of mine closure.

Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Dr Sarah Holcombe, said the purpose of the Forum was to build an international network across Indigenous communities to enable the sharing of experiences, struggles, and sentiments in relation to mine site transition and mine-related impacts on their lands.

“The Forum was an opportunity for Indigenous people to come together in a safe, open environment where all views were listened to and nothing was off the table,” Dr Holcombe said.

“For some of the participants, there was a lot of hurt and emotion shared, and for others it provided an opportunity to learn about best practice engagement that offered insights into new ways for industry and First Nations people to work together,” she said.

“By sharing stories, experiences, and the journey they have been on, the participants reaffirmed the need for intergenerational healing – or possibilities for healing.”

Multiple Māori iwi – the customary land-holding family groups – in Aotearoa, New Zealand who have rights and interests over OceanaGold’s three mine sites (the Waihi and Macraes Operations and Reefton Restoration Project), participated in the Forum.

“Collectively, the participants shared powerful insights about their experiences with the mines in the context of frontier battles, settler colonialism, and mine closure,” Dr Holcombe said.

“This included connection to Country, experiences of past mine closure, and concerns, expectations and aspirations about forthcoming closure.”

OceanaGold EVP – Sustainability, Sharon Flynn, said continuous improvement in social performance, and in particular, iwi and community engagement, was ingrained in the company’s culture.

“As a responsible miner, we own our past, our present and our future. And, by being an active member of the CSRM, we have participated in projects that have allowed for direct and unfiltered feedback, which have positively challenged our company, and are key to our growth in the future,” Sharon said.

OceanaGold is guided by an External Affairs and Social Performance Manual, which outlines policies and processes to identify and analyse how the company impacts the communities where it operates. Importantly, it guides the company to align its operational performance with local aspirations, values and cultures.

“We are on a journey of continuous improvement, and we understand that involves learning from the past, creating space for healing, and establishing collaborative and respectful engagement processes that deliver mutual outcomes,” Sharon said.

While Dr Holcombe noted that “what we’ve learned from this research, and the Forum in particular, is that mine closure offers an opportunity to mend and reset relationships. It’s never too late to start that journey.”

“There’s a legacy mining companies must take on board as part of their social performance, and continuous and close engagement with First Nations people forms part of that important process, especially in the transition from operations to closure,” Dr Holcombe said.

“The Forum dialogue echoed that sentiment. As a collective, the participants affirmed their willingness and commitment to continue to share, culturally connect and realise a way forward that is informed by intergenerational First Nation impacts,” she said.

“For mining companies, developing long-term governance systems that are culturally informed is a crucial step.”

Read the full report here.

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