Future uncertain for new N.W.T. mining projects

The future up two major proposed mining developments may be up in the air as aboriginal groups say they want to see Impact and Benefits Agreements before giving their OK to the projects

De Beers Gahcho Kue diamond mine and Avalon's Nechalacho rare earth deposit affected

De Beers and Avalon Rare Metals have come across unexpected hurdles in trying to bring two major mining projects in the Northwest Territories to life. The former's Gahcho Kue diamond mine and the latter's Nechalacho rare earth project have been recommended for approval.

The companies have negotiated Impact and Benefit Agreements with two aboriginal groups in the area. But now four aboriginal groups who say they haven't been given IBAs for Gahcho Kue are demanding further review, and two are saying the same about Nechalacho.

Impact Benefits Agreements spell out how First Nations will benefit from nearby mining projects. Mitch Bloom with the federal Northern Projects Management Office says IBAs are private contracts — and completely distinct from binding environmental reviews of resource projects.

"In terms of a legal obligation, I can not imagine or think of one right now under any particular statute," Bloom says. "Whether there's a broader understanding or expectation or obligation, I think that's a whole separate question."

With that type of uncertainty, native groups have learned that environmental assessments are usually their best chance to influence development.

"Communities know that if they express significant opposition through public review processes, that they will be less likely {to be approved]" says Benjamin Bradshaw, a teacher at the University of Guelph who has studied the evolution of IBA's in the N.W.T. 

"They can use that as a bit of leverage to negotiate IBAs in advance of EAs," Bradshaw says.

De Beers and Avalon have responded to letters First Nations have written to the federal government opposing their projects. They say many of the complaints were addressed during environmental assessments of their projects.

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