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Canada Yellowknives Dene seek benefits agreement from Giant Mine cleanup

00:15  25 january  2020
00:15  25 january  2020 Source:   cbc.ca

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" Giant Mine has never benefited the Yellowknives Dene . We were not consulted and we did not receive any compensation from Giant ," he said. "With this process, we have the opportunity … to return to what was taken from us, the opportunity to reconcile with the past, the opportunity to change."

Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Northwest Territories, Canada. The Yellowknives Dene are a vibrant people committed to celebrating our traditions and passing them on to the next generation.

a group of people sitting at a table using a laptop: William Lines, Johanne Black and Beth Keats spoke on behalf of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Thursday at the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board hearings into the Giant Mine cleanup. © Sara Minogue/CBC William Lines, Johanne Black and Beth Keats spoke on behalf of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Thursday at the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board hearings into the Giant Mine cleanup.

The Yellowknives Dene are asking why they're still being treated like any other stakeholder when it comes to the $1-billion Giant Mine cleanup.

The project was subject to public hearings by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board this week. The board is considering whether to issue a 20-year water licence that would allow the Giant Mine cleanup team to move into active remediation.

"One of the things that the Yellowknives Dene are struggling with is a project such as this has such a high dollar value," Johanne Black, the First Nation's director of treaty rights and governance, told the board early in the week. "But when it comes to the Giant Mine Remediation Project, there is not one agreement that exists in terms of their social responsibilities."

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Public hearings on the closure and remediation plan for Yellowknife's defunct Giant Mine begin Monday. The project is seeking a water licence for a 20-year term and a land use permit for a five-year Stakeholders — from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation to Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The Yellowknives , Yellow Knives , Copper Indians, Red Knives or T'atsaot'ine (Dogrib T'satsąot'ınę) are indigenous peoples of Canada, one of the five main groups of the First Nations Dene who live in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

The Yellowknives Dene want to see a benefits agreement that specifically addresses the need to share jobs, training and business opportunities with the First Nation most affected by the mine. They also want to take a leading role in environmental monitoring of the site for the long-term.

It's not clear whether the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will consider a benefits agreement or another arrangement with the Yellowknives Dene as a condition of the water licence.

However, a lawyer with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board pointed to an example from 25 years ago when Ron Irwin, as minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, ordered resources company BHP to address social licence issues around the Ekati Diamond Mine before a water licence could be issued.

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It describes the entire Giant Mine area as "undevelopable." In a presentation to the board Tuesday, city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett made a plea to the project The board will also hear from two federal government departments, the Giant Mine Oversight Board, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the

Alfred Baillargeon says Yellowknives Dene have never properly benefited from the Giant Mine and that he wants compensation and a federal apology for The company was awarded a majority of the contracts for the cleanup work done in 2018. There are too few opportunities for young people, who

"That's an issue that crystallized around the water licensing process," said John Donihee.

Norms to rules

Every operating mine in the N.W.T. has signed a voluntary agreement with an Indigenous group or groups. The new Mineral Resources Act, which passed in September of last year, will make such agreements mandatory for future projects.

The Giant Mine cleanup is not a mining project, and it's not under the jurisdiction of the N.W.T. government. But Black and others argued that the billion-dollar price tag puts it in the same league.

"Under the legislation, impact benefit agreements are between private companies," Natalie Plato, deputy director with the Giant Mine Remediation Project, told the CBC. "We're a government so obviously we don't fall into that category."

What are they getting?

"What we have agreed to do," Plato said, "is we do a contribution agreement with the Yellowknives Dene as well as the North Slave Métis Alliance that contains many of the items that would be in a typical benefits agreement."

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Compensation for Giant Mine arsenic contamination would be costly and could set precedent for The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has been calling for a federal apology and compensation for In 1999, the federal government became legally responsible for the cleanup of the Giant Mine site after

Stakeholders — from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation to Fisheries and Oceans Canada — have already filed their evidence, all of which is available on Bassi-Kellett notes that the mine site takes up about seven per cent of the land within the city's municipal boundary, presenting unique opportunities.

Contribution agreements are also in place for the City of Yellowknife, Alternatives North, and other groups participating in the formal review of the project.

The cleanup team has funded a BEAHR training program through the Yellowknives Dene's Dechita Naowo program, at a cost of about $150,000 a year. The program, designed to prepare students for environmental field work, recently produced about a dozen graduates.

Plato also points to the project's socio-economic strategy and advisory committee, which includes the Yellowknives Dene as one of several parties at the table.

But Black said that seat at the table has the effect of "diluting" the Yellowknives' Dene voice.

"The project's response has been that it is not necessary to have an agreement with an individual organization," Black said. "We are not just any organization."

She said repeatedly that the First Nation is a rights holder, not a stakeholder, a term that several project staff began to use as the hearings rolled on.

Business opportunities

The cleanup team also points to two efforts to increase Indigenous participation in future contracts.

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Yellowknives Dene First Nation Elder Muriel Betsina looks out her window in the direction of the Giant Mine site, located less than two kilometres away. Photo by Jimmy Thomson. The 360 shipping containers that hold the deconstructed roaster, which was where the gold was separated from the rock.

Three communities, one Dene culture: Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah. This is a guided Aboriginal journey through three northern communities. Relax in our lodge enjoying the cultural stories and traditional knowledge demonstrations of the Yellowknives Dene as told by Bobby Drygeese.

The Aboriginal Opportunities Considerations gives contract bidders higher points if they include Indigenous employment, training and subcontracting as part of their bid, thus making them more likely to win the contract. The Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business or PSAB is another mechanism. In a PSAB request for proposals, only Indigenous businesses can bid.

a group of people sitting at a table with a laptop: Nigit'stil Norbert, Tanya MacIntosh, Mavis Cli-Michaud, Kimberly Fairman and Camilia Zoe-Chocolate make up the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. © Sara Minogue/CBC Nigit'stil Norbert, Tanya MacIntosh, Mavis Cli-Michaud, Kimberly Fairman and Camilia Zoe-Chocolate make up the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

Bobby Drygeese is the chair of the Yellowknives Dene's Det'on Cho Corporation. He says neither of those guarantee any business, training or jobs go to the Yellowknives Dene, and that it should, particularly when it comes to the cleanup of the First Nation's backyard.

"Yellowknives Dene First Nation never got nothing out of this Giant Mine," he said. "The cleanup … should be used to help us move on to the future."

The Det'on Cho Corp. has a contract to do security at the mine site. Drygeese says that's small potatoes, compared with what's to come.

Waiting for compensation

The Yellowknives Dene are also expecting an apology and compensation. The remediation team's director, Chris McInnis, assured the land and water board that's coming, but in a separate process.

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For the Yellowknives Dene , remediating Giant Mine . not only entails a technical solution to the arsenic contamination problem Figure 1. Yellowknife, Giant Mine , and the Dene settlements of Ndilo and Dettah. Map by Charlie Conway. Yellowknives Dene oral history accounts suggest other deaths, as

A company owned by Yellowknives Dene First Nation has been awarded the majority of job contracts for the Giant Mine cleanup . Ndilo Chief, Ernest Betsina said he's happy to see that the Yellowknives Dene Nation will be able to maximize the economic benefits for its members — but he

a person posing for the camera: 'Yellowknives Dene First Nation never got nothing out of this Giant Mine,' said Bobby Drygeese, chair of the Det'on Cho Corporation. © Sara Minogue/CBC 'Yellowknives Dene First Nation never got nothing out of this Giant Mine,' said Bobby Drygeese, chair of the Det'on Cho Corporation.

That's an old story for Alfred Baillargeon, who addressed the board in Tlicho Thursday.

"Every time we raise our concerns, you guys always change the subject and say, 'No, that's not what we're talking about today,'" Baillargeon said, through an interpreter.

His frustration was shared by many Yellowknives Dene.

"We should be one of the richest First Nations all this time," said Henry Beaulieu, one of many Yellowknives Dene who addressed the board as an individual this week. "I shouldn't have to come here and beg for compensation."

Beaulieu is one of the recent graduates from the project-sponsored BEAHR training, but he says he's still out of work, and can't afford to go to school elsewhere.

In response, Plato said more positions should open up, once active remediation begins.

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