North

Ross River Dena want in on Faro mine clean up

It's a big, multi-million dollar project, and the Kaska want a bigger piece of the action. 'We're tired of being put down to the bottom of the totem pole, especially in our own backyard.'

'We've been expecting a lot of things for a long time but nothing has ever came of it,' says Gord Peter

The Faro mine site is one of Canada's largest contaminated sites. It was abandoned in 1998 and the burden of cleaning it up has fallen to taxpayers. (Yukon Conservation Society)

It's one of Canada's biggest mine clean-up projects, and some local First Nations people feel they've been left out.

"We're tired of being put down to the bottom of the totem pole, especially in our own backyard," said Gord Peter, a Kaska man who lives in Ross River, Yukon. It's one of the closest communities to the disused Faro mine, which is now a massive toxic site.

'We've been expecting a lot of things for a long time but nothing has ever came of it,' said Gord Peter. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Peter says it was a Kaska man who found the original deposit at Faro in the 1960s. That deposit led to the creation of the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in the world.

The mine was in operation for about 30 years and made some people rich — but not the Kaska, Peter says.

Local communities say the remediation project should mean employment, training opportunities, and contracting opportunities for them. 

"We've been expecting a lot of things for a long time but nothing has ever came of it," he said.

"I guess you drove in, right?" Peter said to CBC reporter Nancy Thomson. "And your vehicle must have just about fell apart. Well that's how we feel — we're being pulled apart, nothing's been happening.

A federally-funded group called the Faro Mine Remediation Project Team is holding public meetings in several communities this week, to talk about the ongoing clean up. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

New remediation plan

A federally-funded group called the Faro Mine Remediation Project Team says it's looking to write a new remediation plan to be submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. It's been holding public consultations in nearby communities this week, including Ross River.

The abandoned mine is on traditional Kaska territory, which is shared by the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation. The two First Nations do not have negotiated land claims.

The effort to clean up — or at least contain — toxins at the abandoned Faro mine site has already taken nearly 20 years and cost more than $350 million. 

Chief Jack Caesar of the Ross River Dena Council believes his community has been sidelined during the ongoing remediation project. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Little of that money has ever made its way to Ross River or the Kaska people, says Jack Caesar, chief of the Ross River Dena Council. 

"That was my thinking over the years. And it's about time we kind of opened the doors of opportunity to Ross [River], in regards to what occurs on their traditional land."

Kim Redies of the Ross River Dena Council agrees. She says local First Nations need a bigger say in how the remediation project continues.

"Back in the 60s, it was looked upon as the Faro mine was taken away from us, and it's looked upon again as ... the same," she said.

"We don't want it taken away again."

With files from Nancy Thomson

now