A mining company is relinquishing its right to mine silica sand at Whitebeach Point near Fort Smith, N.W.T.
The agreement was struck to protect four areas from development, while keeping the door open for development in other areas. It was made between the Tłı̨chǫ Government and the company, Explor Silica (Explor), which held mineral rights in the area. The company wants to extract silica sand — which is a very fine sand found in this area, and relatively rare in Canada.
Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty said he welcomes the news and says this recognises Tłı̨chǫ wishes and makes it possible for the Tłı̨chǫ and the company to do business in other areas of the nation's lands.
"This is something that we've been advocating for a long time. And that's a great achievement for our Tłı̨chǫ nation," Lafferty said.
He said four of the exploration development sites were located in the Dınàgà Wek'èhodì Candidate Protected Area. He said those lands are particularly sacred to the Tłı̨chǫ.
"Our government made it clear to the company ... that we cannot begin — even consider explorer's proposal — until obviously they relinquish its four mineral claims … in the protected area," Lafferty said.
He said this agreement means that those four claim areas in the protected area will be removed from Explor's development proposal.
"It's good news for us, good news for our region, our people, for the protection of our lands, and it's a reminder of our strength as Tłı̨chǫ people," he said. "This is more of a happy news for our nation."
The area in question he said is "very sensitive" both culturally and ecologically to the region.
"Those are the areas are sacred areas for us — it's been in our backyard for forever an important area culturally and for the environment as well," Lafferty said.
"Our elders and even our ancestors have always said that we love our land, and we have to sustain it the way it is."
He said elders have also warned that the community, while looking forward to economic opportunities, should be "cautious."
"We must protect our land, our water and our air," he said.
In 2014, Husky made a proposal to the Tłı̨chǫ government to develop silica mining claims in Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè. According to a joint news release, Tłı̨chǫ citizens had "expressed grave concerns" to this potential development within the areas within the protected area.
In 2016, Explor signed an mining option agreement with Husky. That's when the Tłı̨chǫ government said Explor would have to relinquish the four claims before it could even consider development.
The release said Explor acquired Husky's interest in 2020, giving Explor full ownership of the mining claims and leases.
"Which in turn allowed us to negotiate this groundbreaking agreement directly with the Tłı̨chǫ government," Explor president Allan Châtenay.
He said the company "has always understood" that it needs to partner with the Tłı̨chǫ people to move its project forward.
"We are thrilled to be working closely with the Tłı̨chǫ government to move forward with the development of this world-class and strategically important resource."
Lafferty said at the end of the day, it comes down to cooperation and collaboration.
"We have to work together to be unified, going forward. We cannot work in silos anymore. We have to be at the table," he said.
"I'm glad that the president and CEO of Explor Silica relinquished the four mineral plots."
When it comes to any potential investors, contractors or any companies that are wanting to do business within Tłı̨chǫ lands, Lafferty said the nation is open for more.
"I think we can go a long ways, if we work together in partnership, in true partnership — that we're sitting at the table discussing how the project's gonna proceed," he said.
"We have tons of opportunities … we're open for business as long as all the lands, wildlife and water are protected."
The next steps will involve the Tłı̨chǫ government and Explor evaluating the potential development of Explor's other mineral claims in Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè.