The Tlicho government thought it had reached a deal: A significant portion of their land would be turned over to a mining company and in return they would receive a road to a remote fly-in community and the prospect of good jobs at good pay.
The project had already received a number of key regulatory approvals. The environmental assessment process was complete and the federal and Tlicho governments had approved the mine.
Fortune Minerals Limited — the company behind the project – had received a water licence and land use permit required to construct and operate the mine, which were the final steps in the permitting process.
The company still needed to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars it would need to actually build the mine, but things were looking good for the NICO project. The gold, cobalt, copper and bismuth the mine would produce were valuable commodities. The cobalt in particular was in high demand, as it was needed to make lithium-ion batteries, which are found in everything from smart phones to electric cars.
But then the GNWT and the mining company signed a socio-economic agreement without the support of the Tlicho at the Association for Mineral Exploration’s 2019 Mineral Roundup in Vancouver on Jan. 31. In retaliation the Tlicho boycotted the affair.
The socio-economic agreement outlines spending, education and employment targets to ensure Indigenous groups benefit from the mine.
The Tlicho have serious concerns with the terms of the agreement. They want higher commitments from Fortune Minerals on employment targets.
They are also upset that the GNWT has entered into an agreement with Fortune Minerals that they believe is inconsistent with the Tlicho Agreement and the NWT Mineral Resources Act.
Also, it appears that they’ve been left out of the loop.
Despite making repeated requests to see the document in the month leading up the conference, the Tlicho government didn’t see the document until the day before the signing.
Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann has some explaining to do.
As the territory faces an uncertain economic future, the fact that the government chose to move ahead with the agreement without ensuring the Tlicho were on board is puzzling. This mine is not going ahead without their consent. Why did the GNWT not do its due diligence?
The government had a duty to ensure the Tlicho government was notified. If it was having difficulty getting a hold of somebody, Schumann should have raised it with Tlicho MLA Jackson Lafferty.
This government has made a lot of noise about the need for exploiting the territory’s mineral resources. After Premier Bob McLeod’s “red alert” on the future of the economy, the government’s blundering could be putting the project at risk.
The NWT’s resource sector is going to have a hard time if the GNWT keeps failing to ensure Indigenous governments are involved and on board.