When Leann Wilson talks about First Nations People and innovation in the mining and resources sector, she emphasises it is not about simply including First Nation knowledge in a project. Instead, it is about improving our collective knowledge system so everyone benefits.

“The Australian mining and resources sector have shown sporadic leadership in supporting First Nation culture, as well as the engagement and participation of First Nation People in the process of change. Not in every case, but there is a growing interest from companies and investors in hearing First Nations Peoples’ voices. But when we look at First Nations People outcomes, the data has changed very little, meaning there’s more work to do,” Leann said.

Leann is the Executive Director of Regional Economic Solutions, a majority Indigenous-owned company with backing from Ausenco. She is a descendent of the Bidjara and Kara-Kara peoples in central and central-western Queensland, and equally acknowledges her South Sea Island background. Leann has led engagement in the Queensland Government’s Healing Strategy and led the 2019 First Nations Climate Summit. The Summit brought together people to share knowledge about the environment and climate change resilience.

“The Summit provided valuable insights for government in policymaking as well as for the business sector,” Leann said. “It reinforced that we need to include First Nations’ knowledge-holders in decision-making. This means enabling and supporting us to share our knowledge and expertise about land and water management with each other and in partnership. We can all learn from this knowledge and build on it. That’s what translates to good outcomes for everyone. For a mining and resources company, this may mean setting up a First Nation decision-making group to help guide a project throughout its lifecycle. This approach applies the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent, promoting a co-designed and sustainable future for all.

“First Nations People have an intimate knowledge of Country and deep spiritual connections as owners, and custodians of land and water. If you have First Nation Peoples involved from the outset, we can make sure that there is a good understanding of the project’s intent, and we can then identify how and who will share the project story based on our cultural rights and responsibilities. Rather than applying knowledge to an existing approach, it’s about respectfully going to where people are at, on Country, and openly and transparently working together to co-design a way forward.

“The Carrapateena project in South Australia is an example of how a mining company can work in collaboration with traditional owners to create a new approach. It takes time. Just like building a house, you have to establish the right foundation before building upon it. There, the company and the Kokatha People invested time in reaching agreement, which acknowledges that now and in future, the project is a partnership. Their agreement is also known as ‘Nganampa palyanku kanyintjaku', which translates as 'keeping the future good for all of us'.

“Deep listening is so important. It gives mining projects the best chance of creating positive outcomes and reduces the risk of companies ending up in the courts. If everyone is invested in understanding each other’s perspectives, when the project has its first hiccup, the strength of the relationship will get the project going again. If people make decisions based on holistic knowledge, including an understanding of history and culture, we can walk forward together.”

Published in AusIMM Bulletin