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Warintza: a mining project with a shuar heart

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When mining activities are carried out hand in hand with local communities, the benefits are immeasurable, for both the company and the communities. This is what is happening at the site of the Warintza Project, discovered in 2000 by David Lowell and owned by Solaris Resources, a company that belongs to the Augusta Group.

Located on the Condor Mountain range, the Shuar People of Warints and Yawi, from Morona Santiago, on the border between Ecuador and Peru, have eight mineral concessions that cover an area of 268km2. The project, which is in an initial exploration stage for copper, had been suspended due to ‘force majeure’ since 2006 following the company’s request as a result of difficulty in access to the property, impeding the ability to correctly carry out mining exploration activities. In 2019, Solaris and the Shuar communities requested this suspension to be lifted in light of a comprehensive dialogue process that gave rise to the Strategic Alliance between the Shuar Centres of Warints and Yawi and Solaris Resources, through its subsidiary in Ecuador, Lowell Mineral Exploration. As a result, currently 94% of employees are from neighbouring communities and 83% of project suppliers are from Morona Santiago.

Federico Velásquez, Vice President of Operations for Solaris Resources, explains that the dialogue process facilitated the company’s understanding that the project is located on ancestral lands belonging to the Shuar communities. As such, Velásquez saw the opportunity to develop a participative model, the Warintza Model, which incorporates existing ways of carrying out community relations between private companies and Indigenous communities on ancestral lands and territories in Canada.

“The Alliance has given us permission to overcome fear between the parties:  the Shuar Centres’ feared eviction and removal from their communities, which is not at all our intention, and  we feared were afraid the Shuar Centres would not be willing to believe in our commitment to develop new ways of doing things, namely, developing a participative model of mining exploration”, states the company’s representative.

Reach

Built over two years, this relationship between the company and the communities is based on the principles of transparency, participation and dialogue in good faith. Mutual contributions by both parties is the foundation of the relationship so they can both learn and benefit equally from the mining project.

The Strategic Alliance between the ancestral Shuar communities and Solaris, located on the Condor Mountain range, has facilitated the development of an inclusive mining project. The model is based on similar experiences developed in Canada.

The Alliance’s Board of Directors is comprised of Shuar leaders and company executives who mutually inform each other about project development as well as the socio-economic development of the Shuar Centres, which has been key to the relationship’s success.

Another important aspect is the project’s belief in transparency of activities, planning and shared decision making. Likewise, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding has been key to the creation of the Alliance: this agreement goes above and beyond in regard to the development of an exploration project, points out Velásquez.

Further, great emphasis is placed on capacity building and hiring of rotating members of the communities so that all who wish to have the opportunity to learn, work and specialize themselves are able to do so. Moreover, Solaris, its contractors and providers aim to support and advise the Shuar Centres of Warints and Yawi on issues relating to community needs and aspirations for collective benefit.

Results

Today, Solaris works jointly with two Shuar Centres: Warints and Yawi, who seek respect to their right to free will, employment and ancestral ownership of their lands and territories. Both communities understand they have an opportunity to build a model together with the company that can be the beginning of great changes in the way that exploration projects are currently carried out in Ecuador and around the world, specifically through inclusive processes.

Warints and Yawi understand that working with Solaris allows them to have control over a transparent process and avoid informal mining that only benefits the individual instead of the whole community.  “The Alliance has given us the opportunity to work with the Shuar communities as strategic partners, where empowerment is key to advancing mining exploration. Similarly, dialogue about social investments and State participation in the process is paramount”, states Velásquez.