A petition from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation seeking compensation for the impact of Giant Mine will be reviewed by the House of Commons after it received more than 30,000 signatures from across Canada.
The petition calls for an apology and financial compensation from the federal government for its role in permitting the former Yellowknife Giant Mine to operate within the traditional territory of YKDFN and “the resulting harm to the lands and people of the Yellowknives Dene.”
The petition, which was launched three months ago, amassed a total of 32,177 signatures with contributions from every province and territory by the time it was closed on Sunday.
The next step will be to have NWT MP Michael McLeod present the signatures to the House of Commons.
Though presentation dates are not firm, YKDFN assistant CEO Lena Black confirmed the petition is expected to be certified sometime this month, potentially as early as this week. The Government of Canada then has 45 days to present an official response.
“Through the petition, we hope to bring the Government’s attention to the toxic legacy of the Giant Mine, and show that this is an issue that Canadians want to see addressed,” Black said.
The petition, launched on Dec. 7, came days after a demonstration renewing calls for accountability at the former Mine site in Yellowknife.
The document notes “ongoing social, environmental and economic harm and displacement to the Yellowknives Dene,” from the now abandoned gold mine and the 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust left in its wake.
Black, along with Dettah Chief Edward Sangris acknowledged YKDFN member Morgan Tsetta as a major contributor to the petition’s success.
Tsetta, an Indigenous filmmaker and media coordinator at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, said that as she continued learning about the Giant Mine, known to YKDFN as the “Giant Mine Monster,” she wanted to use her social media platform to inform followers.
Having accumulated about 10,000 TikTok followers from her posts about life as an Indigenous filmmaker, Tsetta said she thought if she could get half of her audience to consider signing the petition “that would be a huge win.”
Now, Tsetta has over 33,000 TikTok followers and has helped YKDFN far surpass its original 500 signature goal.
“I knew it was an issue that would get a little attention,” Tsetta said, acknowledging her modest platform and dedicated Indigenous following. Watching the number of signatures on the petition climb, however, “has been crazy.”
“I’m incredibly proud of how effective the social media campaign ended up being.”
Having more than 32,000 signatures, she said, “is not something that can be ignored.”
“I want to be clear that although the petition is over, the government now has to answer to 32,000 people calling for their apology,” she said, noting the petition as “a good first step.”
“I’m more interested in how the government responds to this action, especially in the long term,” she said.
“I will be watching for updates and providing them to my following.”
Meetings with the Ministers
In YKDFN’s push to address the Giant Mine’s legacy, Sangris, along with Ndilo chief Ernest Betsina, met for a second time with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal and MP McLeod.
The Ministers have agreed to open a negotiating table for apology and compensation. Black called the negotiating table a top priority for the Yellowknives Dene and said the process is expected to begin in June.
Separate from the negotiations on apology and compensation, Black said the Ministers have agreed to ensure proper mental health, addictions and housing supports to account for a “chronic lack of resources that our community has faced, even while one of Canada’s richest gold mines profited on our land.”
She said the plan is to have a Memorandum of Collaboration on socio-economic projects signed by the end of March, and to work with the federal departments on funding.
By the end of March, Black said they also plan to sign an agreement on set-aside contracts to ensure community members contribute directly to the remediation and reclamation of the land.
This will provide development and training skills to promote future prosperity, Black said. “We also want to ensure that we lead the long-term environmental monitoring, since the arsenic will still be in place forever.” Once signed, the agreement will be taken to Cabinet.
As one of the most popular e-petitions of this Parliament, Black said “the petition was a way for our community and citizens across the country to bring attention to the issue of Giant Mine and its toxic legacy on the Yellowknives Dene.”
“(Canadians) can see that it was deeply unjust and that Canada should act now to heal past harms so that we can move forward in a good way,” she said. “We feel that this issue really resonated.”