03/22/2012 12:58 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Northern Manitoba aboriginals say they are being shut out of mining benefits

WINNIPEG - Northern Manitoba chiefs are saying the provincial government is failing to ensure First Nations get a fair share of jobs and profits from mining activity.

"We want meaningful, significant jobs — where training is provided to us — so that my members would benefit," Chief Larry Knott of the Red Sucker Lake First Nation said Thursday.

Knott and other members of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the group that represents 30 northern First Nations, say mining companies routinely bring in workers for exploration and development of the region's gold, nickel and other minerals.

They want the Manitoba government to make sure any development includes guaranteed benefits for aboriginals.

"It's the province that allows for permits to go out. It's the province that allows licences to go out," said Chief Arlen Dumas of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

"It's the province that has the responsibility (for) who is able to access certain portions of work and what not."

The chiefs met briefly with federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and asked him to pressure the province. They pointed to a proposed uranium exploration project put forward by Chinese investors in 2008 in northwestern Manitoba that did not proceed.

"They were just going to hire two or three snowmobiles to transport goods into the mining site ... but they were going to bring in their own workers to come and do the work, which is totally unfair," Grand Chief David Harper said.

The northern group said the Manitoba government could learn from the province's own hydroelectric Crown corporation. Manitoba Hydro is currently constructing the Wuskwatim generating station west of Thompson in partnership with the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, which has a 33 per cent stake.

"Those are the types of things that give (us) the opportunity that we can succeed," said Ron Spence, a band council members of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.

The province says it is already working to ensure aboriginals benefit from mining and pointed to the San Gold operation near Bissett, Man.

"The largest gold mine we have, San Gold, employs 50 per cent First Nations," said Mines Minister Dave Chomiak.

"And those 50 per cent are making six-digit figures."

The government has also boosted training for aboriginals through apprenticeship programs and a mining academy established last year in Flin Flon with HudBay Minerals, he said.

"We know that in the future there is going to be thousands of people needed in the mining industry. That's why we've put in all the training opportunities ... to ensure that people in the North and First Nations have an opportunity to get those jobs."