Public hearings on Fortune Minerals’ Nico project wrapped up in Behchoko, N.W.T., this week, with many Tlicho people expressing skepticism about expert claims that mining projects won't harm people or the environment.
The mine would be located about 160 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. Hanging over the hearings into the cobalt, gold and bismuth project was the spectre of a uranium mine that once operated in the same area.
Camillia Zoe Chocolate, among others with a connection to mining in the area, talked about the Rayrock mine that operated from 1957 to 1959.
"This is something that's very emotional for me and I'm sure many people in the Tlicho region," she said. "A lot of people have passed on — my dad and my grandfather are some of the people who were affected because they worked at that mine."
Tlicho people believe contamination from Rayrock is responsible for a lot of the cancer and other illnesses they have suffered.
They said water is a far more important resource for them than the cobalt, gold and bismuth Fortune wants to mine 50 kilometres northeast of Whati.
The company maintains that its open pit mine would not cause any water contamination.
Rick Schryer, Fortune Minerals’ director of regulatory and environmental affairs, said Rayrock was a different era.
"It's a different world, a different reality, when it comes to mining," he said. "We're very serious about protecting the environment. We've heard a lot of concerns today about water — 'Protect the water,' 'make sure the water is safe,' 'we want to be able to use the land as we have in the past' — and that is our primary goal.
"We're going to be using a reverse osmosis system for water treatment during operations and it's basically the best water treatment system you can have. At closure we'll have treatment wetlands to deal with any potential water quality issues. So the water will be protected."
The review board plans to make a recommendation on the Nico project within 90 days.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will make the final decision.