The NWT Difference – It’s More Than Just Mining

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January 18, 2018

On the surface, the Northwest Territories (NWT) is like many prolific mining jurisdictions around the world: vast, remote, geologically blessed.  

But while the rocks may come out of the ground in much the same way, there are big differences behind the scenes which set the Northwest Territories apart – especially for today’s socially-discerning investor.  

An investment in the NWT is, after all, an investment in more than just the minerals extracted. It’s an investment in the future of communities, their people and their economies long after the life of a mine.

(Photo: courtesy of the NWT Mine Training Society)

It’s the kind of investment which can pay off in both profit and profile; and it’s by design says the Deputy Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Tom Jensen.

“A great deal has been invested in building good relationships with our mines and in finding ways to get the best deal for both communities and companies. It’s almost certainly one of the reasons support for responsible mining remains high amongst NWT residents,” Jensen notes.

Through measures like Social Economic Agreements, the NWT has created ways to foster local industry, build a skilled workforce and empower communities. 

Success, however, has come from the way in which mining companies, public governments and Indigenous governments have embraced the approach and work together to ensure the physical, social, and digital infrastructure invested in — and enabled by — mining projects is working to build healthy, vibrant, accessible communities.

With the growth of four world-class diamond mines in the NWT has come an explosion in local businesses providing the expertise and skills to service them.

Settled land claims gave Indigenous governments the financial resources to invest in this economic development. Working through the defined infrastructure of government development corporations – and buoyed by NWT mines – they developed a successful business model in which community members are now employed and mines are serviced locally.  

Indigenous governments have invested in and grown a multitude of NWT-based companies; some of which have now outgrown their territorial beginnings and are expanding to service projects around the circumpolar Arctic and into Alberta.  

(Photo courtesy of De Beers. De Beers has been an ongoing sponsor of the annual ice carving competition at Yellowknife's Long John Jamboree)

In addition to general contracting, service and logistical companies these grown-in-the-NWT corporations own airlines, engineering, trucking and helicopter companies.  They supply vehicles, heavy equipment and specialized expertise in areas like winter building and ice road construction.

NWT’s diamond mines have spent more than $13 billion with northern businesses since 1996; with $5.6 billion of that spending going specifically to northern Indigenous businesses.

It has meant more than just business growth.  It has empowered a host of NWT residents with the opportunity to gain valuable and transferrable education and experience across a multitude of sectors, sciences and trades.

Jensen believes this is one of the biggest ways investing in the NWT differs from elsewhere.

“The avenues for growth across the economy created by the way both our government and Indigenous governments have worked with mining companies to get people trained is second to none,” he says. “People see the value in this every day. Companies can be proud of the legacies they’re contributing to when they invest here.”

Activities supported by companies currently operating in the NWT include prospector training, heavy equipment and environmental science courses - and leadership programs which prime locals with the knowledge and skills to find success at the mine site and beyond.

And far beyond those benefits traditionally associated with economic activity, there are also direct investments made in communities by mines.

From community centres to ice roads, mining companies have successfully found mutually beneficial ways to leave lasting legacies that will endure long after the last load of ore is processed.

(Photo: courtesy of Aurora College. A scoop-tram from the Snap Lake Mine is unloaded at Arctic College for use in its Mining Program; part of a $215,000 donation in surplus equipment by De Beers).

In 2016, more than $11 million was donated to community initiatives through initiatives like scholarships, recreation programming and community infrastructure.

It’s this well-defined relationship between communities and companies which help NWT projects get the support they need to get off-the-ground — and continue smoothly throughout the life of the mine.

All of these features contribute to the rare social and ethical profile of the NWT, particularly when compared with competing mining jurisdictions worldwide.

“We are the birthplace of ethical diamonds,” Jensen observes. “At a time when resource projects and companies must stand up to increased skepticism and stronger scrutiny, the NWT offers a low-risk jurisdiction that is setting the bar for Indigenous partnership that contributes to improved outcomes for northern communities and meaningful opportunities for northerners to benefit and participate in mineral exploration and development.”

“That’s the NWT difference…”