Yellowknives Dene welcome recommendation that feds apologize for Giant Mine mess

Feds acknowledge request for apology and compensation over Giant Mine contamination

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is welcoming a recommendation from the Giant Mine Oversight Board that the federal government apologize to Indigenous groups and address demands for compensation for the toxic mess left behind at the former gold mine.

Roughly 237,000 tonnes of the arsenic trioxide dust is buried in underground chambers on the Giant Mine property.

The recommendation comes from an annual report from the Giant Mine Oversight Board (GMOB). The board is an independent body responsible for monitoring remediation of the site.

- FEATURE | Is Yellowknife ready to reckon with its toxic legacy?

According to the report, "The GMOB is of the view that a formal apology would help to heal the harms of the past and greatly facilitate the ability of the Parties to move forward together.

"In the spirit of continued reconciliation, the GMOB recommends that the Federal Government formally respond to requests of Indigenous groups for an apology and compensation related to the historic operations at the Giant Mine."

Edward Sangris, chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, said it has been asking for an apology and compensation for years.

"When they were doing the environmental assessment, we also talked about compensation and apology to the Yellowknife Dene for allowing the companies to leave a big mess behind," Sangris said.

"We have never really got a response from the feds."

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is asking for $75 million in compensation.

"The Giant Mine has been operating for 75 years, so a million dollars a year," Sangris said.

Appropriate venue

The "project team" responsible for the cleanup of Giant Mine includes representatives from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Government of the Northwest Territories, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and other federal government departments.

Sangris said each time the project team provides an update on the remediation effort to local Indigenous groups, his members ask for an apology and compensation.

"But when we go into these meetings, they say that those are not the places to deal with apology and compensation," Sangris said.

Sangris is not certain what forum would be appropriate.

"Maybe through negotiations of our lands you might see some movement, but I am not sure if they are going to take it up if we introduce it," he said.

The federal and territorial governments have committed to provide a new land claim offer to the Akaitcho Dene First Nations in May, of which the Yellowknives Dene First Nation is a member.

In an email, a representative from Indigenous and Northern Affairs told CBC that "next steps will be determined once the Minister and the Project team have had time to review the Report and recommendations and give them the consideration they are due."