Feds acknowledge request for apology and compensation over Giant Mine contamination

An apology from the federal government is not likely coming any time soon, but the request has been acknowledged.

'It destroyed our treaty rights to hunt and fish in the area,' says Yellowknives Dene chief

Buildings on the former Giant Mine property on Nov. 24, 2017. The federal government has acknowledged a request for an apology and compensation for First Nations living under the shadow Giant Mine's toxic legacy. (Walter Strong/CBC)

An apology and compensation from the federal government to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation for years of environmental contamination related to the former Giant Mine near Yellowknife is not likely coming any time soon, but the request has been acknowledged.

The N.W.T. Legislature unanimously passed a motion in October, 2017 calling on the federal government to apologize to and compensate the Yellowknives Dene for damages and losses related to Giant Mine environmental contamination.

Premier Bob McLeod sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January seeking that apology. According to documents tabled in the legislature Wednesday, Trudeau acknowledged the correspondence and forwarded it on to Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations for her to consider.

Yellowknives Dene Chiefs Ernest Betsina and Edward Sangris, as well as N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod were copied on the response. The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has been asking for an apology and compensation for years.

Yellowknives Dene Chief Edward Sangris says an apology would be a good place to start, if the federal government wants to rebuild relationships with the First Nation. (CBC)

"It has affected the Yellowknives Dene in a lot of ways," Sangris said. "It destroyed our treaty rights to hunt and fish in the area. As leaders we've heard stories from our elders saying how pristine the area looked before Giant Mine."

"I don't think it will ever go back to how our elders have described it," he said.

There hasn't been any contact between the Yellowknives Dene and Bennett or her staff yet, Sangris said. He believes the next step is for the two sides to formally agree to speak about issuing an apology.

"The Trudeau government, he wants to build a new relationship with First Nations, [an apology] would be a good start," he said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Affairs said senior department officials have met with with the chiefs, but as of Tuesday, Sangris said he'd not been contacted by Bennett or her office.

"The department is reviewing and assessing the historical record and will respond more formally when this work is complete," the spokesperson said.

"Canada remains committed to working with the YKDFN in support of reconciliation."

Read the correspondence between McLeod and Trudeau below. On mobile? Follow this link 

With files from Randy Henderson