Délınę Got'ınę Government to have greater say in cleanup of abandoned mines near Great Bear Lake

·3 min read
In this file photo, a cache of barrels sit near an abandoned airstrip on the Terra Mine site. The mine is among a collection of former silver, copper and bismuth mines located in the Great Bear Lake area set for remediation.   (Deline Land Corporation - image credit)
In this file photo, a cache of barrels sit near an abandoned airstrip on the Terra Mine site. The mine is among a collection of former silver, copper and bismuth mines located in the Great Bear Lake area set for remediation. (Deline Land Corporation - image credit)

People in Délınę, N.W.T., will have greater control over how a group of abandoned mines will be cleaned up near their community.

The Délınę Got'ınę Government signed an agreement with the federal government last Wednesday to form a pair of committees that will allow community members a say in decisions about the clean-up.

The abandoned mines near Great Bear Lake are one of eight high-risk mining sites the federal government plans to remediate in the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

The plan is expected to cost $2.2 billion over 15 years.

"For many generations, we've avoided these areas because of the contamination," said Ɂek'wahtı̨dǝ́ Leeroy Andre, Délınę's elected leader, in an interview with CBC Trail's End host Lawrence Nayally.

"We're still scared to go on the land because we don't know what exposures we have, and we don't trust the government. So I want to make sure that the work that we do is by our people and for our people, and that they can see for themselves the work that they've done," he said.

"We don't want to repeat those same mistakes that that has caused many problems."

Andre points to the legacy of Port Radium, a former uranium mine near the community along Great Bear Lake.

He says many ore workers and their family members developed cancer later in life, leading to a lot of mistrust.

Andre said one of the biggest sites to tackle is the former Terra Mine, home to a mill, tailings pond and a number of large fuel tanks, which according to the federal government, led to significant fuel contamination in the soil.

In this file photo, a number of barrels gather rust at the Norex Mine site near Great Bear Lake.
In this file photo, a number of barrels gather rust at the Norex Mine site near Great Bear Lake.

The governance agreement announced Thursday establishes the Délı̨nę-Canada Remediation Management Committee and Operations Committee.

The management committee will direct the remediation project while the operations committee will look to carry it out.

"This agreement allows us to move forward together, as partners, on this important project to restore the land while protecting and maintaining the ecological integrity of Great Bear Lake and its watershed," said Dan Vandal, federal minister of Northern Affairs, in a statement accompanying the announcement.

It will also allow for economic benefits to the community, including training opportunities for local hires.

Economic opportunity

The agreement stands in contrast to work at the Giant Mine site near Yellowknife, one of the eight abandoned mine sites included in Ottawa's remediation project.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the federal government recently agreed to set up a formal process to discuss an apology and compensation for the First Nation and to ensure the YKDFN play a formal role in the remediation after the mine operated on its land without its consent for several decades.

The cleanup of Giant Mine is expected to cost nearly $1 billion and take 18 years.

MLA for Yellowknife North Rylund Johnson brought it up during a sitting of the territory's legislative assembly last week.

Johnson said there is decades of work to be done but the territory is failing to capture one of the largest economic development opportunities in its history.

"Remediating the North's contaminated sites is an act of reconciliation, a massive economic driver, and leaves a better future for next generations," Johnson said.

He said the territory needs to track the socioeconomic outcomes of the projects, something the N.W.T. minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment committed to look into.

'We want to use this land'

Back in Délıne, Andre said the remediation work is a daunting project, but necessary work.

"At the end of it, we want to make sure that the environment is going to be healthy and safe for people to go back," he said.

"We want to use this land. It's such a beautiful area."