Caroline Wawzonek: Annual Geoscience Forum Opening Address

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Yellowknife — November 24, 2021

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Good morning and a warm welcome to the 49th Annual Yellowknife Geoscience Forum.   

For 49 years, this forum has provided a setting for industry, academia, and governments to exchange information on mineral and petroleum exploration, mining activities, permafrost, and geoscience research in the North.

To start, I want to acknowledge the efforts made by the various players in the territory’s resource industry to keep both their employees and the communities of the NWT safe while continuing to operate through the pandemic. The last couple years have challenged our government, communities across the territory, and industry to adapt to a new operating environment in order to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the health of our residents, communities, and economy.

Although the pandemic has changed a lot about our world, including the global resource industry, we have always had an eye on recovery.

The mining industry worldwide is recovering after what has been a significant disruption, and for the Northwest Territories, there is an opportunity to open a new chapter in our rich and long-standing mining story.

I want to be clear: we are not looking past gold or diamonds, or any other metals that have brought us to where we are today. Their potential remains high and we continue to see positive results as deposits grow. 

Instead, we want to build on the history of exploration, proven geoscience and mining success that has been realized so that we can take our mineral resources potential to the next level.  

Diamonds have been very good for our economy thanks in no small part to the partnerships forged and grown between our mines, Indigenous governments, and communities in the form of Socio-Economic Agreements and Impact-Benefit Agreements.

These partnerships have established a new way of doing business in the NWT and have evolved to realize the partnered, socially, and environmentally conscious management of mining and exploration that exists today. The benefits from these partnerships have been significant. They include the creation of more jobs and training opportunities for residents, leading to improved livelihoods and steady career development.  These partnerships have also resulted in the success of dozens of northern and Indigenous-owned companies, development corporations and joint ventures that give back to the communities in which they work from every day.    

This way of doing business can take more time at the front end because meaningful relationships take time. The relationships exist not only between industry and communities but between the GNWT and industry through our own engagement such as the CSCR folks and their pathfinding services as well between GNWT and Indigenous Governments and Indigenous organizations. Many NWT exploration projects have grown into advanced stage projects under our vision of business for the future.

To investors, we call this the “NWT difference.” It has been the foundation of our message that: “The NWT is a place where you have the assurance that your investment is empowering a people and inspiring a future”.

As the world recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increased appetite for investments with strong Environmental, Social, and Governance, or ESG, performance.

Global discussions are intensifying around the interconnectedness of environmental and social sustainability and financial systems. ESG is the future framework in which environmental, social and governance factors will be considered alongside financial factors in the investment decision-making process.

Our approach to the mineral resource industry has been evolving in this direction since our first diamond mine opened over 25 years ago and that has placed us on the cutting edge of mineral development including exploration.

The NWT model – with resource royalty sharing, socio-economic and impact benefit agreements, and co-management regulatory and legislation development – is at the forefront of Indigenous participation in mining, exploration, and development in Canada and likely globally. It has been noted in tributes to our government and recognized in award-winning companies like the Det’on Cho Corporation. 

As we turn the page to a new chapter for the NWT mining industry, our leading ESG practices will be a foundational element of our new narrative and our future.

The presence of critical minerals in the NWT is another.  They are an exciting new element of our mining story and one I know you will be discussing at this year’s forum. 

Companies and countries around the world are making moves to secure and develop supplies of critical and strategic minerals. As they do, doors are opening for critical mineral projects such as NICO, Nechalacho, Pine Point, Cantung/Mactung and Prairie Creek.

The NWT has an opportunity play a key role in meeting the growing international demand for these commodities, and the list is expanding.

The federal government has identified 31 minerals that it believes will position Canada as a leading supplier of critical minerals; the United States has identified a growing list of 50.  

Many of these minerals can be found in the NWT.  And while there is still work to be done to fully define the scope of our potential, several critical mineral projects are already in the advanced stages of development while others continue to be identified. 

One of the definite highlights of this past year has been the success of the Cheetah and Vitals Nechalacho project. It shows, not only the potential for critical minerals production in our North, but also how it can be achieved in partnership with Indigenous governments and companies.

We are preparing a plan for the development of the NWT’s critical metals; and kicked off this work with a workshop that included stakeholders from across industry, academia and Indigenous governments on how these commodities will fit into a renewed Mineral Development Strategy for our territory.

Gold, base metals and diamonds have anchored the growth of our mining industry for close to 100 years. Thanks to Nighthawk Gold, Gold terra, Sixty North, Rover, Mountain Province Diamonds, Arctic Star and others, they continue to be a part of our great mining story.

That said, there is opportunity in this post-COVID investment climate to take advantage of the re-set that is happening in the global mining industry, the new focus on ESG and, in particular, the demand for critical minerals that we now know our territory can provide.  

The NWT’s rich, proven mining history gives us a great story to tell, and there is also an exciting new chapter that is yet to come.  

So, perhaps a concluding question that I want to ensure is answered: is where are we going next and how will we get there?

The line of talks you have for this week tells the story: we have an incredible foundation and we are going to use that base to build an exciting future.

  • As we recognize the rising potential of our critical minerals and rare earths, our diamond mines are exploring options to extend their projects while traditional gold deposits have gained new life.
  • We are formalizing the relationships and partnerships that we have built with Indigenous governments through, for example, the establishment of a protocol with the Indigenous Governance Council.
  • We are finalizing new modern mineral resource legislation with features like formalized benefit agreements and online map staking.
  • We continue to work with partners to identify and advance operational improvements in regulatory processes for exploration projects though initiatives such as the Mackenzie Valley Operation Dialogue that brings together the regulator body, government departments and industry to seek efficiencies that will benefit us all.
  • In partnership with the federal and Tłı̨chǫ governments, we have completed the Tłı̨chǫ Highway to Whatì, improving access for the NICO and Nighthawk projects in the region.
  • We continue to advance two highway projects to the Arctic coast – the Mackenzie Valley Highway and the road through the Slave Geological Province Corridor.  

As you gather this year for the 49th Annual Yellowknife Geoscience Forum, know that the GNWT is tracking towards a successful future for our resource industry through critical mineral exploration and production, ESG, new modern legislation, new infrastructure development, and progress towards a fully NWT regulatory environment.

We know that the mining industry is changing but if there is one thing we’re certain of, it is that the mining industry is a powerful adapter and innovator. We have seen it throughout this pandemic.

I am confident that we will continue to see strong partnerships formed, new commodities mined and more products produced.

These are the elements of the GNWT’s vision of a strong resource sector – one that we are positioning to be prosperous through an NWT-difference based approach to development and one ready to welcome the mineral industry of tomorrow.

It’s the next chapter of our territory’s continuing story and I’m happy that we are all part of it.