Yellowknives Dene call on Ottawa to 'get to the finish line' on mine contamination agreements
First Nation concerned that a federal election could sideline compensation, apology
With the possibility of a federal election looming, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) says Ottawa must move forward on signing a series of agreements meant to apologize and compensate for the legacy of the Giant Mine.
For 70 years, Yellowknife's Giant Mine produced over 237,000 tons of arsenic trioxide. The area where the now-shuttered mine sat remains one of the most contaminated sites in Canada.
In recent months, efforts by the First Nation to receive an apology and compensation from Ottawa have gained momentum, says YKDFN CEO Jason Snaggs.
"We've been actually seeing a lot of progress … more progress than the Yellowknives Dene have seen in 70 years with respect to healing the toxic legacy of the Giant Mine," said Snaggs.
Now, with a federal election anticipated in the fall, he's hoping that the government can "get to the finish line" and sign on several agreements currently in the works.
In a news release, the First Nation described concerns that an election call could "significantly delay, if not undo, much of the important progress made in the last six months."
Remediation project underway
The release describes a series of proposed agreements "now sitting on the desks of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, and Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand" and awaiting approval.
The agreements include protocols to begin negotiating an apology and compensation, as well as plans to make sure YKDFN community members receive work and a formal role in the $1 billion Giant Mine remediation project, work on which began this summer.
"It is imperative over the coming weeks that we realize the signing of these historic agreements to begin the healing," added Snaggs.
When the mine arrived, Yellowknives Dene were displaced from the western part of Yellowknife Bay, a culturally and spiritually significant area for harvesting.
"Our land is spoiled. It's not like what it was. We are fearful of harvesting anything near Giant," Dettah Chief Edward Sangris has said.
Johanne Black, director of treaty rights and governance at the First Nation, told CBC that time is also of the essence in order to make sure as many elders are able to participate in the process as possible.
"They are at an older age, and they would like to see reconciliation get started before it's too late and they never get to see that," she said.
In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said "all parties remain committed to moving these agreements forward while giving them the consideration and time needed to ensure they are meaningful and appropriate."
The statement also says three of the four agreements are being worked on for "timely formalization," while a fourth, the procurement processes framework to formalize the YKDFN's role in the remediation project, is expected to take longer.
With files from Avery Zingel