Yellowknives Dene, federal gov't agree to further talks about Giant Mine apology, compensation
Follow-up meeting scheduled for later in February
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the federal government agreed to set up a formal process to discuss an apology and compensation for the First Nation for a mine that operated on its land without its consent for several decades.
"It's a sense of relief," said Ernest Betsina, chief of Ndilo for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
"It's a sense of optimism that the federal government is finally listening to us and that the federal government is finally doing something. Together, I know we can come up with a good work plan."
Giant Mine operated from 1948 to 2006, displacing the First Nation from the western part of Yellowknife Bay, affecting their harvesting rights. The mine contaminated the water and led to long-term negative social impacts among the YKDFN.
According to a news release from the YKDFN, Chiefs Edward Sangris and Ernest Betsina met virtually with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal, and Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod on Jan. 29.
They restated their demands to receive a formal apology and compensation for Giant Mine, and to ensure the YKDFN play a formal role in the remediation of their traditional lands.
The clean up of the mine is expected to cost up to $1 billion, including initial care and maintenance and active remediation.
Remediation work at the former gold mine is imminent and the YKDFN have demanded that it be the only eligible bidder on contracts that include water treatment, long-term environmental consulting and monitoring of the project.
The chiefs saw the meeting as a step forward in their claims.
"At this meeting, they [federal government] have at last agreed to move forward on a negotiating table with us to discuss an apology and compensation, and now we need to ensure that this work gets done very urgently for our people," said Edward Sangris, Dettah chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
"They must now put their good words into action."
Betsina said the chiefs want to ensure people who were impacted the most by the toxic legacy of Giant Mine are the ones who will benefit from the remediation project.
"When you look at it, the diamond mines are going to be finishing soon, so we need to start looking elsewhere or improvising and looking for future jobs for our members."
He said he also sees upcoming talks as a step toward reconciliation.
"I'm hoping the prime minister is listening," he said. "I hope the prime minister can do the apology on this."
Both chiefs said they are looking forward to working with the federal government.
Bennett said the federal government has been working with YKDFN on the issues surrounding Giant Mine to better understand their impacts on the community.
"Righting historical wrongs and working collaboratively to renew our relationship with First Nations is key to advancing reconciliation in Canada. We are committed to continue moving forward in collaboration with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation," she said.
A follow-up meeting will be held later this month, according to the release, to confirm how they will move forward.
Betsina said the federal government recommended they meet "maybe once a month and work together."
"It certainly is encouraging."
With files from Anna Desmarais