MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Yellowknives battle with the Giant

Published by MAC on 2020-02-02
Source: CBC (Canada)

The Yellowknives Dene in Canada's Mackenzie Valley are trying to exert indigenous control of a huge reclamation project for the Giant gold mine.

The  operation is estimated to cost around $1 billion - one of the largest "clean ups" in the country's history.

However, as  depicted in the following article from CBC, fundamental issues are proving highly contentious, and the very definital goal posts appear to be moving by the hour, setting aside the Yellowknives demands for primacy over negotiations.

Yellowknives Dene seek benefits agreement from Giant Mine cleanup

The Yellowknives Dene are asking why they’re still being treated like any
other stakeholder when it comes to the $1 billion Giant Mine cleanup.

'We are not just any organization' says Johanne Black

Sara Minogue

CBC News

24 January 2020

The Yellowknives Dene are asking why they're still being treated like any
other stakeholder when it comes to the $1-billion Giant Mine cleanup.

The project was subject to public hearings by the Mackenzie Valley Land
and Water Board this week. The board is considering whether to issue a
20-year water licence that would allow the Giant Mine cleanup team to move
into active remediation.

"One of the things that the Yellowknives Dene are struggling with is a
project such as this has such a high dollar value," Johanne Black, the
First Nation's director of treaty rights and governance, told the board
early in the week. "But when it comes to the Giant Mine Remediation
Project, there is not one agreement that exists in terms of their social

The Yellowknives Dene want to see a benefits agreement that specifically
addresses the need to share jobs, training and business opportunities with
the First Nation most affected by the mine. They also want to take a
leading role in environmental monitoring of the site for the long-term.

Nigit'stil Norbert, Tanya MacIntosh, Mavis Cli-Michaud, Kimberly Fairman
and Camilia Zoe-Chocolate make up the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water

It's not clear whether the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will
consider a benefits agreement or another arrangement with the Yellowknives
Dene as a condition of the water licence.

However, a lawyer with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board pointed
to an example from 25 years ago when Ron Irwin, as minister of Indian
Affairs and Northern Development, ordered resources company BHP to address
social licence issues around the Ekati Diamond Mine before a water licence
could be issued.

"That's an issue that crystallized around the water licensing process,"
said John Donihee.

Norms to rules

Every operating mine in the N.W.T. has signed a voluntary agreement with
an Indigenous group or groups. The new Mineral Resources Act, which passed
in September of last year, will make such agreements mandatory for future

The Giant Mine cleanup is not a mining project, and it's not under the
jurisdiction of the N.W.T. government. But Black and others argued that
the billion-dollar price tag puts it in the same league.

Giant Mine's remediation team still has a to-do list

"Under the legislation, impact benefit agreements are between private
companies," Natalie Plato, deputy director with the Giant Mine Remediation
Project, told the CBC. "We're a government so obviously we don't fall into
that category."

What are they getting?

"What we have agreed to do," Plato said, "is we do a contribution
agreement with the Yellowknives Dene as well as the North Slave Métis
Alliance that contains many of the items that would be in a typical
benefits agreement."

Contribution agreements are also in place for the City of Yellowknife,
Alternatives North, and other groups participating in the formal review of
the project.

The cleanup team has funded a BEAHR training program through the
Yellowknives Dene's Dechita Naowo program, at a cost of about $150,000 a
year. The program, designed to prepare students for environmental field
work, recently produced about a dozen graduates.

Plato also points to the project's socio-economic strategy and advisory
committee, which includes the Yellowknives Dene as one of several parties
at the table.

But Black said that seat at the table has the effect of "diluting" the
Yellowknives' Dene voice.

"The project's response has been that it is not necessary to have an
agreement with an individual organization," Black said. "We are not just
any organization."

She said repeatedly that the First Nation is a rights holder, not a
stakeholder, a term that several project staff began to use as the
hearings rolled on.

Business opportunities

The cleanup team also points to two efforts to increase Indigenous
participation in future contracts.

The Aboriginal Opportunities Considerations gives contract bidders higher
points if they include Indigenous employment, training and subcontracting
as part of their bid, thus making them more likely to win the contract.
The Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business or PSAB is another

In a PSAB request for proposals, only Indigenous businesses can bid.
'Yellowknives Dene First Nation never got nothing out of this Giant Mine,'
said Bobby Drygeese, chair of the Det'on Cho Corporation.

Bobby Drygeese is the chair of the Yellowknives Dene's Det'on Cho
Corporation. He says neither of those guarantee any business, training or
jobs go to the Yellowknives Dene, and that it should, particularly when it
comes to the cleanup of the First Nation's backyard.

"Yellowknives Dene First Nation never got nothing out of this Giant Mine,"
he said. "The cleanup should be used to help us move on to the future."

The Det'on Cho Corp. has a contract to do security at the mine site.
Drygeese says that's small potatoes, compared with what's to come.

Waiting for compensation

The Yellowknives Dene are also expecting an apology and compensation. The
remediation team's director, Chris McInnis, assured the land and water
board that's coming, but in a separate process.

That's an old story for Alfred Baillargeon, who addressed the board in
Tlicho Thursday.

"Every time we raise our concerns, you guys always change the subject and
say, 'No, that's not what we're talking about today,'" Baillargeon said,
through an interpreter.

His frustration was shared by many Yellowknives Dene.

'I shouldn't have to come here and beg for compensation,' said Henry

"We should be one of the richest First Nations all this time," said Henry
Beaulieu, one of many Yellowknives Dene who addressed the board as an
individual this week. "I shouldn't have to come here and beg for

Beaulieu is one of the recent graduates from the project-sponsored BEAHR
training, but he says he's still out of work, and can't afford to go to
school elsewhere.

In response, Plato said more positions should open up, once active
remediation begins.


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