After an annual public meeting at Northern United Place last week, it’s still unclear how local workers and companies will benefit from the $1 billion clean up of Giant Mine.
The Giant Mine Oversight Board’s (GMOB) 2018 annual report says very little of the remediation project’s economic potential is being realized, especially for Northern and Indigenous workers.
In 2017-2018, the Giant Mine Remediation Project team spent over $36 million. However, only 20 per cent of the project’s employees and contractors were Northern and just four per cent were Indigenous, states the report.
This employment trend will continue unless the project team changes its approach and starts looking at barriers that prevent Northerners and Indigenous people from accessing jobs and contracts.
“We want to see a comprehensive and logical socio-economic and human well-being strategy,” states the report, including measurable performance targets.
Resident Chris Taff spoke at the meeting and compared the training of workers for Giant Mine remediation jobs to his own training in the military.
“When they hired me at eighteen, I was just potential,” he said.
“And so when I look at this community there’s a lot of potential.”
Taff said he was a “little disturbed” to hear about the low participation rate of Northerners, especially Indigenous people.
“This is a ten-year project,” he said. “You can, in ten years, develop pretty much whatever level you want out of people. So I think there’s an opportunity here.”
Paul Betsina, business development manager at Det’on Cho Corporation and a councillor with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), emphasized the need for communication between the board and local companies.
“Right now we need a communication protocol from GMOB,” he said. “You guys need to develop something and stop hiding behind this bubble or shell that you’re in.”
He also noted the mine site is only accessible to those with vehicles, leaving many young people stuck in a “vicious cycle” of low employment.
The subject of a federal apology and compensation for those impacted by the mine’s operation arose more than once.
Giant Mine opened in 1948 and produced incredible amounts of highly lethal arsenic trioxide, of which 237,000 tonnes are stored on-site. The federal government has agreed to clean the site, which will create hundreds of jobs.
The government’s plan is to seal the arsenic in underground vaults and keep it frozen using thermosyphons, which are pumps that suck heat from the earth.
The Yellowknives Dene have asked the federal government for an apology and compensation for damages and losses related to Giant Mine environmental contamination, but they have not received one.
“We recommend the federal government immediately respond to the YKDFN requests for an apology and compensation for the historic operations at the Giant Mine,” states the report.
“We continue to make (the recommendation), not because there’s not progress on it but because it’s vitally important,” said GMOB member Kathleen Racher.
“Still many of the meetings that we attend about the project come back to this issue of reconciliation about the legacy of Giant Mine.”
New drinking water pipeline
Yellowknifer Mike Byrne encouraged the city to “fight harder” for federal funding to replace the drinking water pipeline that runs from the Yellowknife River across the bay to the community’s water treatment plant.
“As a protection measure in the event that all of this work out at Giant fails and we have a mess in the bay, more than we already do,” he said.
Byrne gave kudos to the city for not giving up in their attempts to get full funding for the project.
“They’ve been partially successful and should continue to seek one hundred per cent federal funding for that safety measure,” he said.
“It was the government of Canada who collected the royalties from the gold produced, they should pay for that.”
The YKDFN has also been pushing for a new water line.
“We want to make sure that the water is clean, not just for the city of Yellowknife but for the Yellowknives Dene as well, who have lived on this land for many years,” said Jason Snaggs, CEO of the YKDFN.
Snaggs emphasized the need for a permanent solution to the arsenic problem for future generations.
“We see this block frozen method of more or less keeping the arsenic trioxide at bay, as being a temporary solution,” he said.
Oversight board member David Livingstone said the plan to freeze the arsenic is, at best, a temporary solution.
“I’m optimistic that within a couple of decades we will have a solution to this problem,” he said.
“I think we will be able to identify a means of rendering that arsenic trioxide non-toxic or isolated in a way that does provide indeterminate protection.”