“Within 45 days of the execution of this MOU, the parties agree to establish an Akaitcho-Chamber Relationship Committee responsible for establishing in broad terms the form and the content of an Akaitcho-Chamber relationship strategy.”
This is one of the promises made in a memorandum agreement signed last week by representatives of the Akaitcho-Dene and the NWT-Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
“This is the first direct engagement of the Akaitcho-Dene and the mining industry,” said Akaitcho IMA Implementation co-ordinator Stephen Ellis. “It is a step in the right direction, it is a starting point.”
The memorandum will grant the mining industry easier access to the unparalleled mineral wealth of the Akaitcho region, slicing through some of the political red tape that has hindered mineral development in the NWT in the past.
“The Akaitcho region is quite a large area, and it has a lot of geological potential,” said Tom Hoefer, executive director of NWT-Nunavut Chamber of Mines. “The Akaitcho agree with us that the North needs more mining, and that it is one of the foundations of the economy out here.”
With the Ekati diamond mine slated for closure in 2018, followed in five-year intervals by the Diavik and Snap Lake diamond mines, the Chamber of Mines is concerned about the job vacuum these closures could create. The need to stimulate more mining development to take advantage of the trained work force is of the utmost priority.
“The Ekati mine supports 1,000 workers and is scheduled to close in in 2018,” Hoefer told The Journal. “We are looking at that and saying, where are those workers going to go? What are we going to replace that infrastructure with?”
New mining operations will be needed to accommodate the displaced work force and ensure that the employment rate in the NWT remains stable.
The memorandum is the first of many steps towards that goal, ensuring co-operation between both parties.
“The exploration agreements will ensure that the industry takes the right route without having to bug the government too much about it,” said Ellis.
The memorandum also ensures the Akaitcho people are properly compensated for the heavy industrial activity taking place on their lands, something that wasn’t happening in the past.
“The issue became prevalent recently because of the long history of exploration in the Akaitcho-Dene territory without their consent,” said Ellis. “This ensures that Akaitcho rights are protected.”
The problems began with federal government intervention without consulting the parties involved, especially the Akaitcho.
“It all stems from the failure of the federal government and the GNWT to consult First Nations leaders,” said Ellis. “Industry and First Nations were fed up with the poor efforts being made by the government, and so we’ve come together and said, ‘look, we can do this better.’”
“There are a lot of big issues in the NWT, there are lots of protected areas and often a lack of co-operation with all sides,” he said. “The unsettled claims give companies a tough time because of the amount of work involved for companies to simply get on the ground, and so they shy away.”
With the memorandum, the Akaitcho and Chamber of Mines plan to put these issues to bed once and for all.
“A council involving the Akaitcho and the Chamber of mines will ensure that the Akaitcho get the best deal possible from the council through an honest agreement,” said Ellis. “This will be achieved while still allowing ease of access for potential exploration companies.”
For Hoefer and the Chamber of Mines, recognizing and accommodating Akaitcho needs is crucially important to ensure access to the region’s mineral wealth.
“The Akaitcho are willing to help because there is a guaranteed return for them,” said Hoefer. “Jobs, infrastructure; which is why we signed this memorandum, to ensure those guarantees, to establish trust.”