Both of the major players in the Beaufort Delta inked comprehensive Mineral Development Strategies Jan. 21 in Vancouver, providing both the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) with a road map to sustainable self-determination.
“I think for any indigenous group who have a land claim agreement, having a strategy is always a good starting point,” said GTC Grand Chief and President Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan. “I know there are indigenous groups actually active in development of their traditional lands and just got right into the business without a strategy in place.
“The main idea for having this is to paint a clear picture for anyone interesting in developing our settlement area on how the Gwich’in expect business to be conducted right from the start. As descendants of the first people of this land, we need to have control on what goes on within them.”
Greenland-Morgan and IRC Chair Duane Smith were both in Vancouver for the Association for Mineral Exploration Roundup, an annual gathering of mining interests in Canada.
Two years in the making, the strategies were developed following heavy consultation of community leadership and stakeholders throughout both settlement regions with funding from the GNWT. Greenland-Morgan noted the Gwich’in strategy encompassed both the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
She added the GTC maintained strong positions against oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge and in favour of protecting the Peel River watershed, but wanted to make sure other avenues of resource development remained open — without putting the ecology or future generations at risk.
“We want to be involved from concept to close out and make sure there’s a clear understanding of our rights and interests as Gwich’in of the land claim agreement. As stewards of the land we want to do things carefully,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re anti-development. The strategy is a tool to guide us through development, and I’m hoping this is a good starting point to promote healthy relationships and partnerships with potential proponents in government and projects that would boost our economy and provide employment and training for our people.
“It’s about creating opportunities, being equal partners and most importantly showing everyone how we expect business to be conducted in our lands. Our lands are our most valuable resource, so we don’t take things lightly. We had input from youth, middle age and elders. It’s important to have a strategy in place that you know everyone represent has a say.”
A statement from the IRC explained that with oil and gas development in decline in the Beaufort Delta, the Inuvialuit have been exploring other avenues of economic development, including mineral exploration, which it adds has been limited in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), which encompasses 26 per cent of the territory’s landmass . The IRC echoed the Gwich’in sentiment that while economic development is important for the region’s future; it has to be done in a sustainable manner to ensure long-term prosperity.
“With the production of the draft Roadmap to Mineral Exploration and Development in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) outlines its priorities to support responsible mineral development in the region,” said Smith in a prepared statement. “IRC continues to work in partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories and Government of Canada to promote potential opportunities in mineral exploration in the North.”
The Inuvik Drum reached out to the IRC for further comment, but was not able to speak with IRC leadership before press time.
Mining accounts for roughly 35 per cent of the NWT’s economic activity.