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Canada's response to petition on Giant Mine cleanup 'falls short' for Yellowknives Dene

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says the federal government's response to the Giant Mine petition "reflects some progress," but when it comes to remediation contracts, the response "falls short."

The First Nation says the response fails to reflect over three months of discussions

The Giant Mine in Yellowknife is shown August 2001. The mine permanently closed in 2004, 56 years after it opened. (CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says the federal government's response to the Giant Mine petition "reflects some progress," but when it comes to remediation contracts, the response "falls short."

In December 2020, the First Nation submitted a petition that called on Canada to provide an apology and compensation to the Yellowknives Dene for the harm arising from Giant Mine, which is says left behind a toxic "legacy." 

It also asks the Canadian government to ensure the Yellowknives Dene have "certainty" when it comes to their role in the remediation of Giant Mine by setting aside contracts for them.

The federal government tabled its official response last week.

"Righting historical wrongs and working collaboratively to renew the government's relationship with First Nations is key to advancing reconciliation in Canada. [Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada] is committed to moving forward in collaboration with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation," the written response says, attributed to Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal.

The response also says to date, that the Yellowknives Dene First Nation have been awarded $45.8 million in contracts for the Giant Mine remediation. 

"The government's response reflects some progress," wrote the Yellowknives Dene in a news release issued Monday.

"We acknowledge the government's commitments to work in collaboration with the Yellowknives Dene to seek a resolution to our request for an apology and compensation, and to develop a memorandum of collaboration to advance key socio-economic projects."

The First Nation says the discussions on the two issues are ongoing.

However, when it comes to the contracts, the Yellowknives Dene says the federal government's response "repeats talking points they presented to media before we had our first meeting with senior officials in January 2021."

They say the response fails to reflect over three months of discussions between the Yellowknives Dene and government representatives.

It also point out that the $45.8 million in contracts were not for remediation-related work but for the care and maintenance of the site. As well, the First Nation says it had to enter highly-competitive processes to win the contracts  and that the contacts "were not set aside for our benefit."

The First Nation says it also partnered with established companies to win the contacts and that "considerable" financial benefits will flow to its joint venture partners.

"We are left to wonder why the government invested in us to fulfil these work packages, but selected a procurement approach which effectively prevents us from being able to participate in a substantive and meaningful way," the release says.

"It appears that senior government leadership has grasped the importance of procurement-related benefits in addressing the legacy of Giant Mine, yet decision-makers at the project level are not aware of — or worse, are indifferent to — our circumstances."

The First Nation says it wants not an opportunity to compete for contracts, but a formalized, direct role in remediation along with the apology and compensation.

"Together, these comprise the path to fully accounting for the impacts of Giant Mine on the Yellowknives Dene First Nation," the release says. 

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