The Tlicho (First Nations) government boycotted the signing of a socio-economic agreement between the Northwest Territories and a company proposing to mine in Tlicho territory over “serious concerns” with deal.
The agreement is with Fortune Minerals Limited, the company behind the NICO project, a proposed cobalt, bismuth, gold and copper mine near Whati, central N.W.T.
The Tlicho government says it was asked to witness the signing of the deal on Tuesday, at Association for Mineral Exploration convention in Vancouver.
“Tlicho leadership deliberately chose not to attend the signing ceremony as an expression of their disapproval,” reads a statement from Tlicho government issued Wednesday.
The socio-economic agreement sets out targets for Indigenous employment, local business contracts and spending on training and education, among other things.
The Tlicho government says it has “fundamental concerns” with the agreement, specifically on the matter of hiring targets.
It also says the agreement is “inconsistent” with both the Tlicho land claims and self-government agreement, and with the territory’s impending Mineral Resources Act, which has not yet been put before the legislative assembly.
The release says the Tlicho government was not given the proper time to look over the 48-page document. It says that despite repeated requests over the course of a month, the Tlicho did not get a copy of the agreement until Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the signing Tuesday morning.
Grand Chief George Mackenzie said proposed NICO mine is the first major development on Tlicho lands since the ratification of the Tlicho land claim.
“If we sign it blindly… people back home, our elders, are not going to like it, so that’s why we didn’t want to be the witness to the agreement,” Mackenzie told CBC.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to any development, we just want it done with proper consultation, with proper notification, with proper participation in a way that’s meaningful to us.”
The N.W.T. government has socio-economic agreements concerning each of the territory’s active diamond mines – Diavik, Ekati and Gahcho Kue – and the defunct Snap Lake Mine.
‘Not a lot of recourse’
Though socio-economic agreements are a condition of mining companies obtaining an operating licence, there is “not a lot of recourse” if the terms aren’t met, said Drew Williams, the spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
Williams said there are no associated fines, and no mining company has ever lost its licence for failing to hit targets laid out in its agreement.
The Tlicho government says it wants to negotiate an impact and benefit agreement with Fortune Minerals.
Impact and benefit agreements are deals between Indigenous groups and development companies that are negotiated privately, and separately from other orders of government.
Unlike socio-economic agreements, these agreements are legally-binding.
With files from Walter Strong and Hilary Bird
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Struggling to hire, Finnish firms send mixed economic signals, Yle News
Norway: Iron mines in Arctic Norway could soon re-open, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Russian miners dig deeper into vast Kola nickel reserve, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Iron mine in northern Sweden to restart production, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: Mining company boosts spending to lobby U.S. government for contested Alaska project, Alaska Public Media