Canadian Chameleon: Mudjatik Thyssen Mining

Mudjatik Thyssen Mining (MTM) is a remarkable example of versatility in the Canadian mining industry. The sustainability of this venture, like any other, relies upon the cooperation of stakeholders. MTM works hard to earn that cooperation.

MTM's unique joint ventures partner one of the largest mining contractors in Canada with Northern Aboriginal communities on a 50/50 basis. The result? Advanced technical and management capabilities combined with active local involvement.

A case in point is joint venture for Cigar Lake. At Cigar Lake, impact communities from the Athabasca Basin region (Stony Rapids, Uranium City and Wollaston Lake) participate as equity partners. They also enjoy employment benefits and training opportunities.

Image courtesy of Cameco Corporation

So how does this unusual relationship work? Mudjatik Enterprises Incorporated (MEI), owned by the English River First Nation, acts as a vehicle to create partnerships for Métis and First Nations people. These partnerships then work together to promote training, development and economic advancement for local Aboriginal people. Thyssen Mining Construction of Canada Ltd. (TMCC), incorporated in 1960 as Associated Mining Construction, is an underground mining contractor in the western U.S.A. and Canada, and a world leader in shaft sinking. TMCC partners with MEI, submitting bids for Cameco Corporation's mining contracts.

Jim Elliot, president of Tron Power Incorporated which acts as the operator for the joint venture, describes how these contracts fall into place, "The MTM bid is submitted to Cameco. If we are successful, Cameco awards the contract to MTM. MEI then enters into joint ventures with communities in the North that are willing to participate. For example, at McArthur River we have Clearwater, Ile-a-la-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows, English River First Nations and Tron Power that form the Mudjatik Joint Venture. The manager of that joint venture is Tron Power."

Image courtesy of Cameco Corporation

Jamie McIntyre, Cameco's director of Sustainable Development and Corporate Relations, says Cameco respects MTM's efficiency and expertise. "It is hugely valuable that TMCC actually took the initiative to formulate these very special relationships with Aboriginal communities in northern Saskatchewan. These are hardnosed, straightforward people. . . . Over the years, they have established special relationships with these communities. Cameco just sort of sets the table. We ask all our contractors to make sure that northerners benefit through all of our contract activity. We have a business relationship with 20 northern communities already." ("Northerner" to Cameco means a group of northern residents must own at least 50% of the company.)

"What's interesting about this consortium," says McIntyre, "is that it literally remakes itself relative to the location of its contract opportunities. . . . Cameco's underlying desire is that the communities most impacted by the operation will receive benefits from the operation. . . . So its consortium at McArthur River has a different community membership than the consortium at Rabbit Lake. That is something that Cameco asked for to make sure that the benefit from these huge contracts are realized by the communities most impacted by the operation."

Because of the trust built up between MTM and Cameco, Cameco recently informed the joint venture, "We will give you outright the Eagle Point contract - we won't even tender it - but in turn we want you to recast your ownership to include all seven communities in the Athabasca region."

Elliot explained how this relationship worked. "At Eagle Point, the contract was awarded to MTM. Then MEI endeavoured to enter into a joint venture relationship with the same communities involved in McArthur River, with the addition of the Athabasca Development Corporation which incorporates eight communities in northeastern Saskatchewan. The Eagle Point joint venture partners are Buffalo River, Athabasca Development Corporation. English River and Tron Power. The three communities of Ile-a-la-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows and Clearwater chose not to participate."

Even though not all communities chose to join this particular consortium, indicated McIntyre, that was a business decision made by the communities themselves. "In the process of trying to organize that partnership," he explained, "three of the communities were objecting [about] the way the new joint venture was being cast. Because they were not willing to sign the contract, they got left out. Now you can see we have a political problem because we left out three communities from the west side."

But in the end, there were seven Athabasca communities brought in. "We had to leave it up to the communities to sort their business out," said McIntyre. "That's an interesting dynamic when you're dealing at the community level."

"Communities have to be in a state of preparedness so they are ready to take advantage of the business opportunities when they become available," added McIntyre.

Besides relying upon MTM's excellent negotiating abilities, Cameco also relies upon the joint venture's technical experience and expertise. MTM "has had underground mining contracts at Cluff Lake, McArthur River, Rabbit Lake and Cigar Lake," said McIntyre. "They were the first aboriginal joint venture to sink the mine shaft [at McArthur River]. They are the most experienced company at sinking shafts in the Athabasca sandstone - which has its own unique qualities. This is hugely valuable for Cameco because no matter where we mine at Athabasca we know we have a contractor who can get us down to the ore."

These relationships do not end on payday, indicated McIntyre. "More than profit - way more important - is the employment flowing into these communities. People are learning to become managers, so we see the transfer of skills from the primary business owner to the employee."

Elliot agrees with McIntyre that these joint ventures culminate in sustainable enterprises for the communities. "Dividends go directly towards the community for community assistance programs, housing youth programs, youth facilities. There is also the benefit of the increased employment, job opportunities and training for the youth of the community . . . coming of employable age. We encourage them to have their grade 12. As opportunities come available to [MTM, these opportunities are passed on to the local communities.] Even as things slow down for [MTM, experience and training makes community members] employable for other jobs in the area."

Hence Athabasca Caterers, once owned by southerners, is now owned 100% by northerners. Northern Resource Trucking is now 81% aboriginal owned.

"Most of these communities have no tax base or little revenue," said McIntyre. "They are always struggling for revenue streams they can use to build their communities. So this is an absolutely wonderful match. The communities are using those resources to build other capacity."

"Over the last five years," added Elliot, "Ile-a-la-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows, Clearwater and English River have received income of about $1.4 million each through the joint venture. The northern employment opportunity with MTM, when we first became involved with them, was 13%. That has now increased to about 50-52%. This represents an increase from between 150 to 200 job opportunities."

"It's part of a plan," says McIntyre. "It doesn't happen by accident. It happens because there is a strategy to make it happen."

For more information about Mudjatik Thyssen Mining, visit www.mudjatikthyssen.com. For more information about Cameco Corporation, visit www.cameco.com . For more information about Tron Power Incorporated, visit www.tronpower.com.


Created by: Shirley Collingridge, Wordsmith