The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) and the territorial government hailed a “reset” of their relationship regarding the Slave Geological Province Corridor (SGPC) project, Wednesday.
In a Sept. 25 meeting attended by YKDFN Chiefs Edward Sangris and Ernest Betsina, Premier Caroline Cochrane, Minister of Infrastructure Diane Archie, and Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek, all parties agreed that strong relationships are key to advance major infrastructure projects in the NWT.
SGPC proposes to extend mineral extraction potential over the next decade by building an access road with hydro lines into the eastern region of the NWT, up to the border of Nunavut, according to the GNWT Department of Infrastructure.
In the meeting, the two governments pledged to work together with other Indigenous governments and organizations to advance the SGPC.
Betsina said his First Nation looks forward to working with the GNWT on projects that benefit the territory, particularly on the SGPC and other major schemes.
“Economically, the NWT is at a critical juncture,” said Sangris. “Indigenous, territorial, federal and municipal governments must work together to move projects forward that will stimulate the economy, create employment, attract investment and ensure a bright future for all Northerners while respecting Indigenous traditions, culture, Treaty Rights and Title.”
The GNWT said it is pleased to reaffirm its commitment to working with the YKDFN and other Indigenous governments and groups on the project.
“Partnerships with Indigenous governments and organizations are imperative to the success of projects like the SGPC, which will help us to expand and diversify our economy, together,” said Cochrane.
The next steps include further discussions to formalize relationships between the GNWT and Indigenous governments and groups on the project; continued engagement with those Indigenous entities; environmental activities supporting the protection of wildlife, such as caribou; and planning and engineering work.
The GNWT is committed to working with Indigenous governments and Northern businesses to revise the government’s procurement policies to enhance those businesses where possible and create more employment opportunities, the release added.
The announcement comes after a rough period in the two government’s relationships over the summer, when in August the YKDFN withdrew its support for the SGPC, citing the territory’s “antiquated” procurement methods and Indigenous engagement.
The YKDFN said in September that restoration of its support for the project would depend on the new infrastructure minister honouring commitments made under the previous minister, Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave.
In August of 2019, the GNWT secured $40 million for pre-emptive work on the 413-km, two-lane gravel route of the SGPC, $30 million of it from the federal government.
Those funds were intended “to support environmental regulatory reviews and planning studies to advance the Slave Geological Province Corridor,” according to the department.
The first phase SGPC is the Lockhart All-Season Road, which would give access to Lockhart Lake in the Slave Geological Province and extend the winter road season beyond the end of Highway 4 at Tibbitt Lake.