Since its inception, Orano Canada Inc. has made a significant commitment to northern Saskatchewan and the people who call the region home. “Long before corporate social responsibility was part of the business world, Orano was working to benefit the North and Indigenous communities,” says Tammy Van Lambalgen, Vice-President, Corporate Affairs & General Counsel at Orano. “In fact, it was a fundamental requirement during our environmental assessment phase and outlined by the approval panel.” To mine in Saskatchewan, the company had to ensure it could provide socio-economic benefits to the nearby northern and Indigenous communities. This guidance has become ingrained in Orano’s corporate DNA and its everyday operations. “This commitment is now a fundamental part of who we are and what we do as a company,” says Van Lambalgen.
In the early days of its mining operations Orano helped incubate other new businesses in the north to become service providers for the company and its mine sites. While this meant increased costs in the beginning, it has paid off in spades. Decades later, those fledgling businesses are now well-established—many working for Orano and other companies in Saskatchewan and elsewhere. “Our operations, and the operations of organizations like Athabasca Security, West Wind Aviation and Northern Resource Trucking are now successful, competitive Saskatchewan companies,” says Van Lambalgen. “Long-term sustainability for Orano and our partners was the goal when we started, and that is being achieved.”
Several years ago Orano and Cameco Corp. embarked on new partnerships with local northern First Nations including the Ya’ Thi Néné (“Lands of the North” in the Dene language) Collaboration Agreement. This agreement was signed between the three Athabasca Basin First Nation communities of Black Lake, Fond du Lac and Hatchet Lake and the four communities of Stony Rapids, Wollaston Lake, Uranium City and Camsell Portage, plus Orano and Cameco. This agreement means every signatory is working together to advance environmental oversight, economic and educational opportunities for people in the North. “We collaborate to develop solutions that help people and their communities, and in turn, the agreement helps Orano successfully build our workforce, among other benefits,” says Van Lambalgen.
Orano also invests in northern communities through donations and sponsorships, and through the Six Rivers Fund along with Cameco and other northern partners. The fund is an independent non-profit corporation that support projects and initiatives across the northern administration district (NAD). Its mandate focuses on the projects that help youth, education, sports, recreation and health. “We envision the fund working for people now and for years to come, like an endowment for the north,” says Van Lambalgen.
The company also focuses on building the local workforce now and for the future. Through a partnership with the federal and provincial governments, Orano can offer on-the-job training for young apprentices on mine sites, with a job at the end. So far, the company has trained approximately 100 young northern residents as mill operators, with a 90 per cent retention rate. Through the Northern Career Quest program, young people are given the chance to learn and work where they live, and to enter a long-term, good career path. In addition, Orano works with local schools to encourage youth to consider careers in STEM. “We need skilled people in trades and professions like engineering, and we want to employ local people,” says Van Lambalgen. “We work hard to show young people that good careers are available where they live.”
While Orano can’t predict what the future holds, the company does know it will keep doing what has made it successful. Working in the north, and supporting local communities has benefited all involved, and there are no plans to change what has been so positive. “Orano is committed to the north and to Indigenous communities,” says Van Lambalgen. “No matter what happens, we’re dedicated to being competitive in the world market, and working for the benefit of the place we call home and the people who live there. It’s served us well so far, and there are no plans to change that.”