Aboriginal Day celebrations at the Yellowknife River on Sunday featured praise for a new deal securing independent oversight for Giant Mine’s remediation.
The contaminated former gold mine is home to 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide, a toxic byproduct of the mining process used.
A new environmental agreement, establishing a six-member panel to independently supervise the federal clean-up operation, was announced late last week.
On Sunday, hundreds gathered at the Wiiliideh site on the Yellowknife River to hear a series of leaders hail the new agreement.
Chief Ernest Betsina, of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, said: “We, as Yellowknives Dene, have been the most impacted because of it was on our traditional land. They took their money and left, and we’re left with the damage.
“The government is trying to reclaim the land to its original state, but something wasn’t right – because the government was in charge of the clean-up but also issuing all these permits and licences. There was nobody to overlook what they are doing, to see they are doing the right job.
“We pushed really hard for what is now the oversight group, so we can have a say in how we want our land to be remediated. I’m glad, today, that we have agreed to work together.”
Mark Heyck, the mayor of Yellowknife, said the deal was a “remarkable accomplishment”.
He added: “This will also invest money in future research, so perhaps we can find different solutions down the road as technology evolves. We may not have to live with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of arsenic trioxide underneath our feet in future.”
Kevin O’Reilly, from Alternatives North, said: “I want to recognize all the individuals who put in an enormous amount of time and effort to reach this agreement.
“This will improve public reporting, and I think it will actually start to form the foundation for us all working together.”
Joanna Ankersmit, representing the federal team remediating Giant Mine, said: “The environmental agreement is certainly a milestone but nowhere near the end of this.
“We look forward to working with all the parties and the community going forward, and we look forward to a successful future together.”
The Government of the Northwest Territories and the North Slave Metis Alliance are also signatories to the deal creating the oversight board.
More images from Aboriginal Day by the Yellowknife River on Sunday: