The federal government has loaned more than $1.2 million to the Nechalacho Rare Earth Demonstration Project located about 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife.
The funds will go towards the mine’s sensor-based ore sorter, which is necessary for the mine to sort through the rocks it’ll collect.
The money will act as a “repayable contribution” or a loan, which the company will have to pay back over a ten-year period.
David Connelly, vice-president of corporate affairs for Cheetah Resources, said the specific machine being used “significantly reduces the environmental impact of mining.”
“It means that you don’t use any chemicals and don’t produce any tailings and you use much less water and diesel,” he said.
“Really, it’s kind-of an electronic eye that’s determining which rock is valuable ore and which is waste rock, and then puts the valuable ore into one pile.”
The mine started its extracting operations in May and the work will last until September. Connelly said the project is currently “on schedule and on budget” so far and he expects the sensor-based ore sorter will start to be used in July.
“If everything remains on schedule, we expect the first barge of rare earth concentrate to arrive in Hay River in September,” he said.
Phase one of the mine will sustain around 30 seasonal jobs. This summer, 600,000 tons of rock will be mined, of which around 100,000 tons is expected to be valuable.
Once the open-pit mine closes, the next two years will be spent sorting through the resulting ore.
According to its owners, it seeks to create a model of smaller-scale mining, Indigenous involvement, and environmental responsibility.
Run by Cheetah Resources, the mine is the NWT’s first new metals mine in decades. It partners with the Det’on Cho Corporation, which is the economic arm of the Yellowknifes Dene First Nation.
It’s the first mining project in Canada where Indigenous peoples are mining on their own traditional territory.
The company plans to eventually expand Nechalacho into a larger mine.