North

Yellowknives Dene do not want to be overlooked as Giant Mine cleanup ramps up

At a public meeting on the Giant Mine Remediation project, the project team told attendees that the construction manager will not have clear details on smaller contracts until the water licence is closer to completion.

Detah elder Alfred Baillargeon held officials to account about gold mine's toxic legacy at public meeting

Business development manager at Det'on Cho Corporation, Paul Betsina, says Yellowknives Dene need to benefit from economic opportunities and that the project team needs to eliminate barriers for young people to get employment. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Northerners looking to participate in the economic spin offs of the $1-billion Giant Mine remediation project can expect to wait for the water licence before the project's main manager gets specific on potential contracts.

The project's deputy director, Natalie Plato, said that the main construction manager, Parsons Inc., gave the board the "most detailed schedule" it could within last six months.

Parsons has not divided up contracts because the licensing process, which started April 1, will dictate the work, she said. The project will award future contracts for site security improvements, drilling and environmental monitoring work. 

Giant Mine processed gold and ore for more than 50 years outside Yellowknife. It closed almost two decades ago and sits on 237,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide dust. The federal government is responsible for its cleanup, which is expected to ramp up over the next decade. 

The project has the potential to create 250 to 300 jobs at the peak of the remediation. It is expected to create another 125 to 150 jobs as a result of new money entering the economy, said Kathy Racher, the chair of the Giant Mine Oversight Board, an independent board that reports annually on the remediation project's progress. 

Members of the public expressed concern about whether Northerners will benefit from those jobs. The project is anticipated to generate $70-million in economic potential each year. 

Concerns about offsite contamination, economic development

Alfred Baillargeon says Yellowknives Dene have never properly benefited from the Giant Mine and that he wants compensation and a federal apology for the youth. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Paul Betsina manages Det'on Cho, the company owned by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. The company was awarded a majority of the contracts for the cleanup work done in 2018.

There are too few opportunities for young people, who face a "vicious circle" of lack of jobs or prohibitive qualifications, Betsina said.

Detah elder Alfred Baillargeon reminded the oversight board that Yellowknives Dene have not benefited from the mine. He wants compensation — not for himself — but for future generations, he said.

He repeated a long-standing demand from Yellowknives Dene for the federal government to apologize for the toxic legacy of Giant Mine.  

The N.W.T. environment department is actively looking at offsite contamination issues, said Erika Nyyssonen who works with the department. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Speaking in Tlicho, Baillargeon said that there has been no money for the band to fix the mess white people left behind.

The burial of arsenic underground frightens him, he said.

"We are wondering why we are always being left behind and being overlooked," said Baillargeon.

"We were supposed to get help, some kind of compensation for all the hardships that our people went through and all the people that used to live here who died of cancer or went away," he said.

The project relies on an option to freeze the arsenic trioxide to keep it within drinking water guidelines, as required by their environmental assessment.

Racher said there has been "progress" on discussions on an apology for contamination affecting Yellowknives Dene, she said.

The board is also advocating for federal, territorial and municipal governments to create a plan to address offsite contamination. The territory's Environment Department is actively working on that issue, said Erika Nyyssonen who works with the department.

The federal cleanup covers the immediate Giant Mine site, but not adjacent lands where contamination concerns persist.

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