De Beers Group has paused an application to re-route a branch of the winter ice road to its Gahcho Kué diamond mine after consulting with Indigenous governments.
Cabin Radio reported in November that the company had filed a request to change the route leading to Gahcho Kué. The new, shorter route would cut across Lake of the Enemy.
However, De Beers now says further discussion with Indigenous partners is required, the CBC first reported on Tuesday.
Sarah Gillis, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s director for environment, said the First Nation is “pleased” by the company’s decision.
“It’s nice that they are listening to us and hearing our concerns,” Gillis said, “and it really highlights the importance of community engagement from the beginning of the process rather than coming in and presenting pre-determined plans.”
According to Gillis, the First Nation has been consulted multiple times regarding the construction of winter ice roads and its position – that roads must not use Lake of the Enemy – has remained consistent for more than two decades.
Lake of the Enemy is a site of cultural, historical, and spiritual importance for the Yellowknives Dene people.
In 1999, Elders and knowledge-holders took part in a canoe expedition to map out a route for the winter ice road that would not interfere with the sacred site.
“We were heavily engaged at the beginning and that is why there is no issue with the current winter road,” Gillis explained.
De Beers filed the proposed re-routing with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board on November 17, arguing the new route would save on travel time by cutting 53 km from the round trip between Yellowknife and Gahcho Kué. The mining company says the shorter route would have less impact on the surrounding environment.
In August, Gillis said, the company undertook an archaeological expedition of the area but did not give the First Nation enough notice to adequately participate.
Because of this – and what Gillis described as “basically impossible” deadlines around consultation – the First Nation once again expressed discomfort with the route crossing Lake of the Enemy.
The situation highlights issues within the regulatory system as a whole, Gillis added.
“In the regulatory system, proponents and developers are required to do an archaeological assessment, and archaeology assessments cannot understand the traditional knowledge of the area,” they said. “It’s not good enough.”
Indigenous knowledge should be given consideration at the beginning of the process alongside archaeological excavation, Gillis argued.
In a written statement, De Beers spokesperson Terry Kruger said the company put re-routing plans on hold “after a review of comments heard through consultation with our Indigenous partners.”
“De Beers Group deeply values its relationships with Indigenous communities and takes the commitment to undertake thorough, complete and meaningful consultation extremely seriously,” the statement continued.
The company now plans additional community engagement sessions in the summer of 2021.
“We are really hoping in the future that we can talk about our interests, and what the objectives and the goals for projects are, and work together to find a mutually acceptable way forward,” Gillis said.