An Indigenous construction company will oversee the mining operations of the NWT's first rare earths project planned to begin this summer.
Cheetah Resources Corporation, which aims to begin a three-year demonstration mining project at the Nechalacho site at Thor Lake about 100 km southeast of Yellowknife signed a contract with Det'on Cho Nahanni Construction Company in an official signing ceremony at the AME Roundup Conference in Vancouver, Tuesday.
The contract signing was announced in a news release by Cheetah late Tuesday and took place in the GNWT's conference booth, which included a performance by the Yellowknives Dene Drummers.
"Det’on Cho Nahanni Corporation will control the mining operations at site and be the miner of record under the contract with Cheetah Resources," states the news release.
"To our knowledge this is the first time in the NWT and Canada that all mining operations will be contracted to an Indigenous firm enabling them to be a miner on their own lands."
Cheetah, an Australian-based company, unveiled its work plan for the three-year project in December and is hoping to move construction equipment to the site by ice road as soon as March in order to be prepared for work by summer.
The Mackenzie Land and Water Board (MVLWB) assigned two land use permits and a water licence for the project late last year, with the understanding that there would be some amendments.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation approved the project last week.
"Subject to the approval by the MVLWB of the existing land use permits and water licence, mining is expect to begin this year," states the news release. "Average employment at site during the three-year demonstration project is expected to be 25."
The rare earths project promises to be the first of its kind in the NWT as it will use"sensor-based ore sorting technology" to extract rare earths, according to the news release.
"The sorting technology removes the requirement for traditional chemical reagents, process water and tailings facilities typically used in ore beneficiation," reads the statement.
Yellowknives Dene First Nation
Members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation were present for the event and included Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina, YKDFN councillor Jessica Deleary, Bobby Drygeese, Det'on Cho chair and Lena Black, a Det'on Cho Corp. board member and band councillor.
Betsina said that his First Nations government aims for a "balanced" approach that will allow Dene to participate in the economic development of the region while protecting the water, land and traditional practices in the area.
"The Yellowknives Dene First Nation believes in a balanced approach to development, we recognize the need for economic prosperity, while at the same time protecting our land, water and wildlife in order to maintain our traditional activities," he stated, noting that the project sets a "new benchmark for Indigenous participation" in major mining projects.
Evan Cranston, director of Vital Metals Ltd., the parent company of Cheetah said in a statement that the company is looking to ensure there are "social and economic benefits" from the project for Yellowknives Dene. He said that by hiring the Indigenous company, it is hoped that it can benefit those living on traditional Chief Drygeese Territory.
"Through our direct and indirect expenditures, Cheetah strives to maximize the social and economic benefits generated by its procurement, employment and training activities with the residents of the NWT and in particular, its Indigenous residents," he said.
"Cheetah recognizes and respects that the Nechalacho project is on Chief Drygeese Territory and Cheetah's responsibility to take care of the land and water."
Cranston said the Nechalacho project is historic in the NWT because it represents the first investment in a new non-diamond operating mine in the territory in about 30 years. He added that in rare earths extraction, it is the first time that "sorting" will be used to separate ore from waste to produce a rare earth mineral product.
Katrina Nokleby, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, stated in the news release that the signing is positive for "Indigenous resource leadership."
“This contract marks a step forward in our territory’s push for Indigenous resource leadership," she stated. "I want to congratulate the Yellowknives’ Det’on Cho Corporation for characteristically taking the lead on a big idea, and commend Cheetah Resources for their commitment to placing Indigenous peoples at this project’s core.”