Fortune Minerals is a small step closer in making its N.W.T. gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper project a reality.

The company wants to build a mine about 50 kilometres from Whati. To do that, it needs to build a 27-kilometre all-weather road through Tlicho territory.

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The site of the proposed NICO mine by Fortune Minerals, near Whati, N.W.T. (CBC)

The Tlicho government recently approved a land access permit that gives the company permission to do exploration needed to plan the road.

It comes after an eight-year development moratorium on Tlicho lands.

"This permit is important symbolically," said Fortune Minerals president Robin Goad. "It's an important gesture."

"The Tlicho have been working on this land-use plan. It's been a long process. You know what areas are open for business opportunities, what areas can accommodate power lines."

The Mackenzie Valley Review Board approved the project last January. The project is now before the federal government.

Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus says they also need to sign off.

"If there is value to Tlicho people, we'll consider it then," he said.

Erasmus said the work approved under the land use permit will have minimal environmental impacts. It allows Fortune Minerals three week of geotechnical work.

Before any construction can begin, the company still needs many more permits from the Tlicho. It also has to firm up who will finance the road to the NICO site.

Fortune Minerals also has to come up with $250 to $350 million to get the mine into production.