Yellowknives Dene First Nation to meet with federal minister about Giant Mine

After months of requesting to meet with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) chiefs will be sitting down with her at the end of the month to discuss issues surrounding Giant Mine.

The YKDFN initially requested a rights and recognition table — a mechanism designed to solve long-standing disputes with First Nations — in May 2020 with the minister, but the department asked for more information.

In November, the YKDFN produced a report in which they outlined the impact of the former Giant Mine on their communities.

Displacement from the western part of Yellowknife Bay has affected their harvesting rights, contaminated water and led to long-term social impacts, the report says.

The YKDFN demanded a federal apology, compensation, and a formal role in the remediation of their traditional lands — lands mined without consent from 1948 to 2006, and left poisoned with arsenic trioxide.

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod says he supports the First Nation going to a rights recognition table.

“If it doesn’t happen, then this issue will end up in the courts,” he said. “This is something our government has stated we would work out in the fashion of a nation-to-nation relationship and I’m hoping that’s where we’re going to end up.”

Left, historic hunting and trapping areas recorded within or adjacent to Giant Mine, and right, current areas avoided by Yellowknives Dene First Nation for hunting of animals like moose and waterfowl. (Courtesy of YKDFN)

Procurement process ‘railroading YKFDN,’ says CEO

In November 2017, the federal government awarded a $1-billion contract to clean up the site to California-based Parsons Corporation.

Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina said remediation work at the former gold mine is imminent, and that the YKDFN is seeking set-aside contracts that would make them the only eligible bidder for water treatment, and long-term environmental consulting and monitoring.

“We just want to make sure that we don’t miss an opportunity to have a table with the minister and make sure she directs her staff to make sure all departments have directions to work with YKDFN,” said Betsina.

In an email to CBC News, the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations said it is open to discussing set-aside contracts and will maximize the use of Indigenous labourers in the work at the mine. 

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett will sit down with Yellowknives Dene First Nation chiefs later this month to discuss issues surrounding Giant Mine. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

But it added that there is already a contract in place for long-term environmental monitoring and it will not be tendering a new one any time soon. 

As contracts for the remediation go out, YKDFN CEO Jason Snaggs says the procurement strategy is “railroading the First Nation into going out for competitive bids on these projects.”

“If the negotiated contracts and the community benefits plan are not in place, it leaves YKDFN in a position to have to compete with Indigenous First Nations across Canada,” said Snaggs, adding that YKDFN is the First Nation bearing the brunt of Giant Mine’s impacts.

Chief Betsina said Bennett has committed herself to working with the YKDFN, and that he’s optimistic she will.

Contracts issued to date

The federal government says it will tender contracts using the same procurement strategy as the Sydney tar ponds that saw the Mi’kmaq get a major stake in the remediation. 

The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations says by using this strategy, Parsons has issued 39 subcontracts worth $74 million between December 2017 and November 2020.

Of that, $49 million went to northern Indigenous companies, and $43 million went to YKDFN-affiliated companies or joint ventures, said a spokesperson in an email. 

In the last year, Indigenous people performed 30 per cent of on-site work.

Parsons will start awarding contracts between now and July, the spokesperson said. Parsons will determine if it can apply this procurement strategy to water treatment and aggregate provision contracts.

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