Compensation for historical harms from Giant Mine could go before federal cabinet, according to MP Michael McLeod.
Once Yellowknives Dene First Nation submits a case for compensation and apology, it will go before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his minister, McLeod said on Monday, although it’s unclear when a final decision will be made.
“I’m already behind it,” he said, citing discussions with Yellowknives Dene First Nation chiefs Edward Sangris and Ernest Betsina.
Asked about the case’s chances for approval, he added it would be “given strong consideration.”
Later, he added, “It’s pretty hard for anyone to deny that there’s been a lot of impact to the community. There’s been a lot of historic harms caused by this mine.”
He further described the City of Yellowknife, the Yellowknives Dene, and the Giant Mine Oversight Board as being on the same page, with the case largely a matter of going through the proper steps.
Stipulating that he can’t outline the proposal until reaching agreement with Ottawa, Sangris said Tuesday the Yellowknives’ submission should be finished by April.
“We can’t just ask for an apology for the sake of an apology. We have to document why the government has to apologize with how the operation has impacted the First Nation,” he said.
“(The process allows) talk about the substance of the proposal, for both sides to agree to the final outcome of negotiation from that proposal,” he said. “And we go from there.”
Last week, apology and compensation for Giant Mine were top of mind for some of the First Nation’s members attending the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board public hearings, which centre on a request from the federal government remediation team for a water licence and land permit to clean up the mine site.
The project is expected to cost more than $1 billion to complete while leaving 237,000 tonnes of deadly arsenic trioxide buried and frozen underground until research reveals another solution.
While the two are separate processes, compensation still loomed large at last week’s hearings.
“YKDFN should be one of the richest First Nations in the Northwest Territories. I shouldn’t have to come here and beg for compensation,” one Yellowknives’ member, Morris Henry Beaulieu, told the board last week.
The First Nation’s presentation outlined the ongoing impacts of the mine, including the loss of key harvesting and cultural areas.
The Yellowknives noted effects on fish, wildlife and vegetation in the area — in addition to other ongoing costs borne by community members.
Years in the making
In 2017, the legislative assembly unanimously voted for then-premier Bob McLeod to write a letter to Ottawa urging compensation and an apology.
In 2018, the federal government acknowledged that request. It indicated that the regional director general for Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs agreed to enter into discussions with the Yellowknives.
Michael McLeod said Monday those discussion have taken place, in addition to advice and funding.
“There needs to be a business case put together. There needs to be a lot of details that needs to be documented. Most of it exists but it has to be packaged up and put forward,” he said.
“The government has to make sure it’s in order. They have to do their due diligence on it.”