“Indigenous people don’t favor economic development!” “Tribal people are anti-extractives.” These are common perceptions encountered frequently in media and informal social discourse. Common, but wrong.  Portrayals of supposedly representative thinking—that all or most Indigenous and tribal peoples are against mining, for example, are problematic. Such a perspective can have unconscious, racist roots; casting these societies as ‘primitive’, living in an untouched natural state.


Some companies do have problems engaging with Indigenous peoples, often because of those very presumptions. We think that this is fixable.


We assert that Indigenous and tribal peoples are interested in economic development (including extractives), provided it meets three conditions:

a) Meaningful and early involvement in decision making around a project;

b) Protection of significant elements in their natural and cultural environment; and

c) Benefit from the activity

Successful examples of this do exist—from the Alaska Natives’ partnership with the Red Dog Mine to the Warlpiri people in Central Australia and their Tanami Mine.  The Australian Financial Review reported February 11, 2021 that the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal group has sought and obtained exploration tenements for iron ore in the Pilbara area of northwestern Australia. They stated that they want to “ensure that mining occurs in a way that respects and protects heritage…” If they can’t get a satisfactory relationship out of the big companies, they have decided to go it alone to develop their own mining enterprise!

When we encounter examples of Indigenous protest of extractive development projects, it is important to consider whether these conditions have been met.  There is a strong economic case to be made for pursuing these conditions; the business impacts of not realizing the value of working with local Indigenous peoples may be project destroying.

News & Notes

Acorn International

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