The participants were few at the first session held to gather input for a made-in-the-North Mineral Resources Act this week.
But those who came had strong opinions on how minerals in the North should be governed.
Louis Covello, long-time Yellowknife prospector, said the federal act worked very well for the prospecting community and only needs a bit of fine tuning to allow for modern additions.
He said he would like to see the ability to stake claims using maps, which many other jurisdictions currently do. Prospectors in the NWT currently need to go out on the land and physically drive down stakes around an area they plan to prospect.
“Under the existing mining act we’ve had the largest staking rush that the world has ever seen,” he said. “We’ve had a minimum of six staking rushes,” he said. “Nowhere else in the world really, other than other parts of Canada, have had that. And Canada mining (regulations) are in large part responsible for our ability to have these very competitive approaches towards what is the (research and development) of the mining industry.”
Covello added allowing prospectors to work unencumbered on Crown land is critical to keep the industry going.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said the discussion paper produced for the public sessions asks good questions, yet provides little in the way of options or alternatives.
He added some of the information was not “terribly accurate” such as the idea that mined areas can be returned to pre-mining ecological conditions. For example, the discussion paper refers to returning “the mine site as close as possible to its natural ecosystem” in a chapter on rehabilitation and closure.
“This is about unlocking our potential, its about creating jobs, economic benefits and so on,” he said. “Not a lot of discussion on the environmental legacy or the socio-economic impacts of mining … I think a much more balanced approach would have been helpful.”
Tom Jensen, deputy minister of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, said mining is a critical industry in the NWT, creating 1 in 10 jobs, and 25 per cent of its GDP.
Mining in the NWT is currently governed by the NWT Mining Regulations, meant to be replaced by the new act, as well as the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, The Northwest Territories Lands Act, the Mine Health and Safety Act as well as acts governing fishing, waters and species at risk.
The new act will govern mineral rights to explore and mine; royalties and other benefits to residents; reporting on mineral types and locations; and rules surrounding staking and maintaining claims and leases on minerals, according to a news release.
Jensen said while it’s too early to speculate on details to be included in the act, the objectives of competitiveness, responding to the unique needs of the North and respecting Indigenous peoples are clear.
After Monday’s public session in Yellowknife, visits are planned for Behchoko, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik and Norman Wells.
Nick Leeson, manager of legislation and legislative affairs for the department, said people can also come into the mining recorder’s office, call, email or post on the department’s website.
Craig Yeo stated in an email members of Alternatives North were present at the meeting, yet did not put forward a formal position on behalf of the social-justice organization. He added members would discuss this week on how to provide input before the Dec. 1 deadline.
Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chief Edward Sangris, Ecology North and the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines could not be reached for comment as of press time.