A view of a truck making its way along the winter ice road through the Slave Geological Province.
Federal northern affairs minister Dan Vandal says a regional study of the Slave Geological Province will go ahead after the Tłı̨chǫ Government requested one.
Regional studies are an option in NWT environmental legislation to assess “the impact of existing or future works or activities” on a particular area.
The Slave Geological Province, a region northeast of Yellowknife that stretches into Nunavut, is already home to three operating diamond mines and is an area the NWT government hopes to further exploit for its mining potential.
The Tłı̨chǫ Government characterizes the Slave Geological Province as “mostly within Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè,” the traditional area of the Tłı̨chǫ described by Chief Monfwi during the signing of Treaty 11.
In June 2021, the Tłı̨chǫ Government wrote to Vandal requesting a regional study.
“We recognize that the region has great value for cultural well-being, way of life, and caribou, and the region has great value and potential for economic development. Tłı̨chǫ Government’s view is that in order to reconcile these values we need an independent assessment of options, impacts, and benefits, before permanent infrastructure is built,” that letter stated.
The letter also referred to the NWT government’s long-held aspiration of building a highway through the Slave Geological Province to the Nunavut border and, eventually, to the Arctic coast.
That project has received some initial federal funding but remains many hundreds of millions of dollars short of its full $1 billion-plus price tag.
“Permanent infrastructure such as the Slave Geological Province Road proposed by GNWT would irreversibly change the region,” the Tłı̨chǫ Government wrote.
“Starting to build a road or major infrastructure without working together to develop a common vision, and without the information needed to inform wise decisions, risks long delays, lost time and money, severe impacts on wildlife and the environment, and missed economic opportunities.
“There is only one chance to get it right.”
In a response last month, Vandal said he supported such a study, adding that a collaborative approach “should help to create certainty for developers, avoid delays in regulatory processes, minimize negative impacts on wildlife and the environment, and support economic opportunities, while considering the interests and priorities of local communities and regional organizations.”
The study will specifically assess possible impacts on caribou while supporting “responsible advancement” of the green economy and critical minerals projects, Vandal wrote. It will focus on the NWT side of the Slave Geological Province, though participation in the study won’t be limited to parties in the NWT.
Vandal and the Tłı̨chǫ Government have each said they expect the study to take two to three years.
A committee will now be established to lead the study. “Consideration must be given to how the outcomes can be meaningful and useful into the future, rather than focus on outcomes that are only relevant for a short period of time,” Vandal wrote.
“This is a proactive approach to help find a positive path forward for the region, avoiding serious impacts and maximizing benefits,” the Tłı̨chǫ Government said at the time of making its request.
“This work is urgent and needs to be approached in the spirit of co-management.”