Denesoline Corporation keeps finding ways for the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation to add revenue streams.
The economic development engine for Lutsel K’e band members, Denesoline got a foothold in the trucking industry by signing a deal with Arctic West Transport in September 2017. One partner in the new joint venture – known as Dene Arctic West – is Q-Line, which is among the largest freight companies in Canada with years of experience in ice road trucking. The third partner is J&S Contracting, run by Jay and Desiree Westgard of Yellowknife.
“Basically we’ve got three months to haul everything the (Ekati) mine needs for the year and that includes fuel, supplies, explosives, machinery, everything basically,” said Iqbal Bhatti, Denesoline’s director of technical applications, of the limited window presented by the winter road to the diamond mines.
Denesoline’s role in the Dene Arctic West includes securing work for the joint venture, taking part in negotiations with the mines and passing on the benefits to the community.
“We get our share from those joint ventures and then we make distributions and we carry out activities in the community,” said Bhatti. “The proceeds from this JV, they get used in the community directly.”
Although Denesoline has more than a dozen joint ventures, Dene Arctic West is “one of the most active and significant ones,” according to Bhatti. Revenues from all of the operations are funnelled into community projects like a café and a food truck that have made meals available to residents of Lutsel K’e, with its population of close to 300.
Bhatti referred to the food programs as “a great success and much needed to uplift the quality of life in the community.”
Hannah Catholique, senior administrative officer for the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, sees the advantages of economic development but has mixed feelings about the mining industry overall.
“It’s kind of a nice addition to the community because we don’t have a restaurant,” Catholique said of the café, which is based in the community hall when the food truck isn’t in use during the colder months. “It is popular.”
The menu consists of hamburgers, fries and poutine.
“Nothing healthy,” she said. “With the declining caribou herds, the diet is changing and to replace it the only option to eat out (is) a fast food outlet … For us, the declining caribou has to do with increased mining activity, and then from the mining money we get a fast food truck in here and can eat poutine. In the long run, I don’t think it’s a great benefit to the community. It’s convenient right now, yes.”
Conversely, there are other perks made possible through Denesoline like a fund for students who want to be involved with sports teams, Catholique acknowledged.
“So they do try to give back to the community in that way,” she said.
The economic development corporation, which is run independently from the band with its own CEO and board of directors, also purchased a sawmill for the community over the summer. That led to 10 people participating in a training course to use the new equipment, Catholique added.
Denesoline has between 15 to 20 direct employees during the year, according to Bhatti. The corporation has created more than 200 job opportunities over the past four years, he said. The summer brings a spike in hires when the fire crew is in place, he added.
But all three diamond mines represent a hefty portion of Denesoline’s business, with all of the corporation’s joint ventures holding contracts at either Ekati, Diavik or Gahcho Kue.
“If the mine needs explosives services, for example – to do blasting, to drill holes and stuff like that – we’ve got a joint venture with Dyno Nobel. They were actually the ones who invested dynamite,” Bhatti said.
Are more Denesoline enterprises in the offing?
“Only with highly reputable companies, as and when required,” Bhatti said.