Members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation at the Giant Mine site. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
The federal government says it has set aside up to $20 million over the next decade to help the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and its members benefit from Giant Mine’s cleanup.
The deal was one of three announced late on Friday, in Ottawa’s apparent haste to announce progress before a widely anticipated snap federal election that will temporarily shut down government communications. This was the eighth federal announcement related to the Northwest Territories in two days.
Ottawa said three agreements had been signed with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in relation to Giant Mine, the former gold mine on Yellowknife’s doorstep that is home to more than 200,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide, a gold roasting byproduct, stored underground. The full cleanup of Giant Mine only began in earnest last month, though the mine itself halted production in 2004.
The first agreement, the federal government said, sets out how it will work with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation “to address the request for apology and compensation regarding the historical operation of the Giant Mine site.” That agreement does not itself form an apology, nor has any amount of compensation been finalized. The federal government is considered accountable for Giant’s toxicity, and its impact on the Dene, as the damage wrought by the mine occurred on Ottawa’s watch with little to no environmental regulation in place.
A second agreement, Friday’s news release stated, will “address the environmental, economic and social priorities stemming from the legacy impacts of mining.”
But the most meaningful announcement on Friday was the earmarking of up to $20 million “to help the First Nation achieve socio-economic benefits from the remediation project.”
The Yellowknives Dene have long demanded, alongside an apology and compensation, an agreement that enshrines a meaningful role for the First Nation in the mine’s cleanup and support to get its members some of the several hundred jobs expected to be created in the coming decade.
Ottawa said the cash would be used to support “an economic division, scholarships and training, community-based monitoring of the site, a community economic development officer role, a community liaison and technical officer role, and a Healing the Land ceremony.”
Organizations like the Giant Mine Oversight Board, which independently monitors the federally led cleanup, have in the past criticized a perceived lack of opportunities for locals to benefit from the cleanup. The federal government insists that is changing.
Between December 2017 and November 2020, Ottawa said earlier this year, the main construction manager for the Giant Mine remediation project set aside around $15.8 million under the procurement strategy for Indigenous businesses.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation, however, has opposed elements of that procurement strategy, saying opportunities had been divided into smaller contracts. That, the First Nation said in May, meant it can only bid at a financial loss and is unable to invest in the equipment and people necessary to take on the work.
“After more than 70 years, we are finally starting to get our message through to Canada and see some reconciliation in action,” said Chief of Dettah Edward Sangris in a statement on Friday.
“This is the start, and not the end. We will continue the work needed for an apology and compensation, and for our elders and our people to finally get back to land and water that has been healed.”