The NWT's industry minister is telling the mining industry her territory has a "new, facilitating government" as she attempts to ramp up investment in exploration.
Katrina Nokleby has spent days meeting dozens of companies, governments, and industry groups at the AME Roundup mining conference in Vancouver. The event marks one of her highest-profile engagements since becoming the industry minister late last year.
"Mainly, my messaging is that we have a new government. We are looking to be a facilitating type government, to facilitate a better relationship," Nokleby told Cabin Radio on Wednesday.
"We want this to be collaborative and for everybody to work together. I have heard that may have been the issue in the past."
As usual, the NWT has sent a significant delegation to the annual conference, including representatives from Indigenous governments. Despite a concerted effort to drum up interest at Roundup, the territory's exploration prospects have remained bleak for years.
On Tuesday, Det’on Cho Nahanni – a subsidiary of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation – signed an agreement relating to one of the NWT's current success stories.
Det'on Cho Nahanni will run mining operations at Nechalacho, a small rare-earths project where mining could begin later this year, on behalf of Cheetah Resources.
By email, Cheetah adviser David Connelly said: "To our knowledge, this is the first time in the NWT and Canada that all mining operations will be contracted to an Indigenous firm, enabling them to be a miner on their own lands."
Cheetah expects Nahanni to be able to employ up to 25 people at the Nechalacho site during what is forecast to be a three-year "demonstration" phase of the new mine, which will produce minerals for use in fields like electronics and electric vehicles.
"What we're starting with is a small-scale demonstration plant," Cheetah's Geoff Atkins told Cabin Radio late last year. "The nature of the rare-earth business is such that we need to start small to prove to our customers that we're able to provide a product … so by starting small, it enables us to move a lot faster than what you would with a typical operation."
Speaking at the signing of the deal in Vancouver, Chief Ernest Betsina of the Yellowknives Dene called Nahanni's leading role "an important new benchmark for Indigenous participation in major projects for the Northwest Territories."
Betsina said: "The Yellowknives Dene have evolved from being passive witnesses to major projects to being key participants."
Nokleby, echoing this, told Cabin Radio: "That, to me, is very exciting. I hope we are moving past the day where the Indigenous component of a project is just cutting a cheque and using the name."
Meanwhile, the federal government earlier announced $500,000 to help the three northern territories increase their presence at another of Canada's largest mining conferences, Toronto's PDAC, over the next three years.
Nokleby, acknowledging the sum is not large in the grander scheme of mineral exploration, said the funding would "vastly improve" the NWT's presence at the PDAC conference.
However, she said tracing exactly how the territory benefits from investments like attendance at Roundup and PDAC remained "a bit of an intangible thing to quantify."
"I'm encouraged. I'm optimistic," Nokleby said, noting a networking night hosted by the NWT had been "very successful" and there was "a lot of interest" from investors.
"One of the things I've heard from investors who have tried repeatedly to get projects going is they love the North and its allure," Nokleby continued, "that it's been a tough road for them but they continue to persevere because they want to have success in the North.
"I'm really selling work in the North as a legacy. If you want to do good with your project, this is the place to do it.
"We all heard a lot of conversation around the economy during the election and after, and as I took this role I felt very challenged and concerned about what I was going to do," she concluded. "Now I'm down here, and talking with our Indigenous partners, I see new hope."