The Tlicho Government was absent on Tuesday for the signing of a Socio-Economic Agreement for a cobalt, bismuth, gold, and copper mine expected to operate near Whati.
Signed by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and Fortune Minerals during the AME Roundup in Vancouver, the agreement was a big step towards the realization of the NICO Mine — a step that the Tlicho government did not want to take.
They were supposed to attend the signing ceremony as witnesses, but Tlicho leaders chose not to take part “as an expression of their disapproval,” according to a Tlicho Government news release. It went on to say, “The GNWT has entered into an agreement with Fortune Minerals that is inconsistent with the Tlicho Agreement and is inconsistent with the forthcoming NWT Mineral Resources Act.”
Over the course of January, the Tlicho Government says that it has made requests to review the socio-economic agreement. However, they were not given a copy until hours before the signing. When they saw it, they were disappointed particularly with hiring priority targets.
Minister of Infrastructure, Wally Schumann, said that Tlicho leaders were briefed on the substance of the agreement in December: “Some of the substance of the agreement, including employment and procurement targets, was presented to the Tlicho Government in December ahead of sharing the final document.”
Grand Chief George Mackenzie told CKLB that the briefing was a short review and did not provide details. He is not happy with the hiring targets, which give priority to the Tlicho, but also to Yellowknife’s Dene and North Slave Metis Alliance.
Mackenzie said, “Not to say we don’t accept other Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals to work in the mine, but Tlicho should be the primary employee target because [the mine] is right in the heart of Tlicho land.”
What’s in the agreement?
The Socio-Economic Agreement is a non-binding document that outlines NICO project’s targets for local and Indigenous employment, local business spending, and education and training. The following information has been collected from a GNWT document that summarizes the agreement.
- During construction, 35% of employees will be NWT residents; 50% of employees will be Indigenous.
- During operation, 60% of employees will be NWT residents; 50% of employees will be Indigenous.
- During closure, 70% of employees will be NWT residents; 50% of employees will be Indigenous.
- Tlicho, Yellowknife’s Dene, and North Slave Metis Alliance Members
- Indigenous persons residing in the NWT
- Residents who have been living in the NWT for at least six months
- All NWT residents including those who are relocating to the NWT for work
- Non-resident workers.
- 35% of the annual value of goods and services associated with construction should come from NWT businesses.
- 60% of the annual value of goods and services associated with operation should come from NWT businesses.
- 70% of the annual value of goods and services associated with closure should come from NWT businesses.
Fortune Minerals Executive Director and COO, Glen Koropchuk, told CKLB that he was also involved in the socio-economic agreement for the Gahcho Kue Project. He said that it was difficult to meet hiring targets during the construction of the Gahcho Kue mine.
“We met with all the stakeholders to see if we can reach out and get more NWT construction workers. We went out to the Sahtu, interviewed people, and in the end, only a couple people chose to actually come down and work in Gahcho Kue… All the efforts were made with all the stakeholders to try to go from one community to another community to work. We do try everything possible.” He continued, “People were already trained.. they just didn’t want to move further South to work. And that’s everyone’s right. If they don’t want to move to work, then they don’t have to move to work. You can’t force them.”
Although socio-economic agreements are non-binding, Koropchuk says efforts are made to meet targets.
More mines, better economy
NWT’s economy is expected to drop 1.6 per cent annually between now and 2025 according to a recent economic forecast. That’s because the diamond mining industry is slowing down, and will be ceasing operations in the next decade, says economist Marie-Christine Bernard.
Bernard is the Associate Director of Provincial and Territorial Forecast Service at the Conference Board of Canada. In an interview about NWT’s economic forecast back in November, she told CKLB: “The Northwest Territories has been producing diamonds for almost two decades now and some of the diamond mines are quite mature and will be ceasing operations in the next decade, and that will weigh on economic growth as we go forward.”
Echoing this statement, Minister of Infrastructure, Wally Schumann said that “the mining sector is 25-35% of our GDP,” and he sees the Socio-Economic Agreement as a positive step forward.
“We all know that the three diamond mines are not gonna be here forever, and those days are coming faster than people think.” He says that the NWT needs to find other mines to replace the ones that are reaching their expiration date. “The mines that are all in the pipeline will never even replace one diamond mine, so we gotta push as hard as we can to get some of these juniors and people that are a little more advanced into production.”
Grand Chief George Mackenzie said the Tlicho Government is not opposed to developing the mine, but he said it has to be done with respect to the Tlicho land claim agreement.
“Our negotiation teams are working really hard to make it happen,” said Mackenzie.