Caroline Wawzonek: 50th Geoscience Forum opening remarks

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Yellowknife — November 15, 2022

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On behalf of myself, the Premier and my Cabinet colleagues, congratulations on arriving at the 50th anniversary of the Yellowknife Geoscience Forum!

My gratitude to the NWT and NU Chamber of mines for their continued good work and commitment to organize and host this annual event. Thank you also for the invitation and opportunity to speak this afternoon.

About 150 people attended the first gathering of this community in 1972. Some of us attending this year’s Forum were not even alive when that first gathering took place. But I’m sure we have at least a few attendees here again who could tell a tale or two from that first event.

I have a few observations to make today about then and now, but let me set a foundation with something that is as much true today as it was 50 years ago:

The success of resource development in the NWT rests heavily on the innovative, dedicated and resourceful individuals who apply science, entrepreneurship and relationship building to their professional work in the North.

And to that I would also add that many of us who have come here from elsewhere are bonded by a found admiration and dedication for this land and its people, a perspective that I believe is going to carry us to our next generation of resource development.

What else was happening 50 years ago? Trudeau was Prime Minister – but it wasn’t Justin, it was his father. Our territorial government was only a few years old and still headed by a federal Commissioner. Nunavut was still part of the NWT.

Yellowknife was a gold town. And prospectors and mining enthusiasts gathered at the Miner’s Mess to talk about places like: Echo Bay, Lupin and Nanisivik.  

That first geoscience forum would have been organized with printed posters and maybe a phone call tree and without the benefit of cell phones. No one would have been asking me questions of how soon we can expect to see on-line map staking because there was no internet.

In the 50 year-history of this event, the unpredictable, the unimaginable and the improbable have all become reality.

In 1972, few, would have predicted the diamond rush of the 1990s; or that the NWT would rise to be the third largest producer of rough diamonds in the world. Less would have foreseen the mining at what is now the Nechalacho property for rare earths and other critical minerals.

“Northern control over northern resources” was already a familiar mantra for local politicians in the early 70’s but I’m not sure they would have envisioned the 2014 devolution of authorities and responsibilities over lands and resources to the NWT. Also likely unexpected in the 1970s would be our current agreement to share resource royalties across three levels of government let alone the reality of the legislative protocol we now have with the Intergovernmental Council; a table where the NWT’s Indigenous Governments work alongside the territorial government to develop an NWT Mineral Resources Act and Regulations.

Or that in 2021, a business arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation would lead mining operations in its own traditional territory at the Nechalacho project.

In the 90’s, partners to our territory’s first socio economic agreement could not have known, for example, the growth and capacity that these agreements would bring to NWT businesses and our economy. Today a 17 billion dollar made-in-the-NWT service sector has evolved to service not one but three diamond mines. The same holds true for Impact Benefit Agreements established between developers and Indigenous governments.

Today, we can look back on these agreements and recognize that they have positioned our territory to be a leader in the application of ESG and ESG-I principles. Something that is quickly growing in value today - but was not envisioned when these Agreements were first conceived.

Life beyond diamond mines may be hard to imagine right now; just like all of these other milestones and progressions were hard to imagine in 1972. But change and progress will come.

Progress on the expansion of Taltson Hydroelectricity, the Slave Geological Province Corridor and the Mackenzie Highway are all mandate priorities of the current government.  A fully-devolved NWT regulatory environment is no longer an impossible notion but a possibility to realistically assess. The concept of Net Zero mining in the North, likely unspoken only a few years ago, is probably a conversation at least some of you are having this week.

We cannot know what the next 50 years will bring. But the strong foundations that have resulted in so much progress and opportunity over the last 50 years are still here along with continued investments in geoscience, modernized legislation, new infrastructure development, and our leadership in ESG. Will there be surprises? Of course. Will there be new opportunities that we can’t even right now imagine? Yes. Will we be able to look back after another 50 years and celebrate a new list of achievements in geosciences and mineral resource development? Absolutely.