Residents of Yellowknife and members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation have concerns about how Giant Mine remediation will affect the safety of their water, food and their own health.
The room was full last Tuesday evening at the Tree of Peace, as residents of Yellowknife and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation shared their concerns at the Giant Mine Oversight Board’s first public meeting. Many residents were concerned mainly about off-site contamination and how it could affect their daily lives.
Board chair Kathleen Racher said many of the worries expressed at the meeting may be beyond the scope of the Giant Mine Oversight Board's work but promised to record what she heard and use it in the work of the board over the coming year.
The board's role is to provide oversight on the work of the Giant Mine remediation project, engage with the public and conduct research into a permanent solution to the storage of the 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide currently housed in underground chambers at the Giant Mine site.
“One of the biggest concerns I think the people of Yellowknife have right now is their water source,” said resident Mike Bern.
“That might be considered by the federal government to be an off-site problem but it's considered by most of us, particularly those of us who have lived in Yellowknife for a lifetime, to be an on-site problem that needs remediation.”
Others worried about the health of their traditional food sources, a lack of information about health risks provided to tourists and the health of those working on the remediation of Giant Mine.
YKDFN Chief Edward Sangris expressed frustration by the board's limited scope.
“I see (the board) as a group that doesn't have any authoritative decision making part of remediation, but what do we do, do we cry in the dark?” he said.
For Sangris, there are many competing concerns including the health of water and traditional food sources.
The remediation operations at Giant Mine are in the planning stages, although some emergency work has been done at the site such as the removal of a mine shaft that had begun to turn, said Natalie Plato, deputy director of Giant Mine Remediation Project.
The next step in remediation will be the freezing in place of the over 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust, which was produced by the roasting of ore to extract gold. The remaining arsenic has been captured and stored in underground chambers.
The board has issued 12 recommendations in their establishment report, including recommending the federal government respond to requests for an apology and compensation to indigenous groups including the Yellowknives Dene First Nation for harm caused by the operation of Giant Mine.
Recommendation number eight notes no government has accepted responsibility for “assessing and remediating off-site contamination caused by historic operations at Giant Mine” and urged federal, territorial and municipal governments make it a priority to deal with off-site contamination.
The board was established in 2015 as a condition of an environmental agreement signed by the territorial and federal governments, North Slave Metis Alliance, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the City of Yellowknife and Alternatives North.