The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says the federal government has agreed to a “collaborative discussion process” that will lead to an apology and compensation for the toxic legacy of Giant Mine.
Late last month, Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chiefs Edward Sangris and Ernest Betsina met virtually with federal ministers Carolyn Bennett and Dan Vandal alongside NWT MP Michael McLeod.
In a news release on Tuesday, the First Nation said the chiefs requested a negotiating table to discuss an apology and compensation for the mine’s environmental and cultural impacts, and a contract setting out ways the First Nation can economically benefit from the mine’s clean-up project.
The federal ministers have agreed to that negotiating table, the First Nation said, and acknowledged “all Canadians should hear the history of the Giant Mine’s impact on the Yellowknives Dene.”
Dettah Chief Sangris stated: “To have both of the ministers, our Member of Parliament, and many senior members of their team at the meeting with us shows that we have a shared interest with Canada in resolving the issue of Giant Mine in the spirit of reconciliation, and to heal the land and clean up the environment for future generations.
“At this meeting, they have at last agreed to move forward on a negotiating table with us to discuss an apology and compensation, and now we need to ensure that this work gets done very urgently for our people. They must now put their good words into action.”
In a statement, Minister Bennett said the federal government was “committed to moving forward in collaboration” with the First Nation.
“Righting historical wrongs and working collaboratively to renew our relationship with First Nations is key to advancing reconciliation in Canada,” she said.
In December, the First Nation held a demonstration calling on Canada to apologize for the mine’s long-lasting impacts. Members also requested a role in remediation of the site, including jobs and training.
A website titled “Giant Mine Monster” details those impacts and the First Nation’s calls on the government.
The Dene Nation and Akaitcho First Nations have since supported the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in their calls for an apology and compensation.
Giant Mine monster
The impact of Giant Mine on the Yellowknives Dene stretches back decades.
Prior to the establishment of the mine, the site on the west side of Yellowknife Bay was a protected area with cultural and spiritual significance to the Yellowknives Dene. Elders still refer to the area – where they hunted, fished, picked berries and collected water – as “the store.”
After Giant Mine began operation in 1948, its gold processing operations emitted a highly toxic form of arsenic known as arsenic trioxide dust.
While Canada knew about the dangerous emissions, pollution control equipment was not installed at Giant Mine until the end of 1951. That was only after many Yellowknives Dene had reported illnesses and a two-year-old boy died after drinking contaminated water.
“The monster that is the Giant Mine came between us and our way of life on the land,” stated the First Nation’s news release.
“It still haunts our communities in the social effects that spiralled out from this poisoning of our lands. Food insecurity. Displacement. Intergenerational poverty. Loss of meaning. Homelessness. Misery. Despair. Alcoholism. Suicide. This is Giant Mine’s toxic legacy.”
Another meeting between the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and federal ministers is set to take place this month.