To understand the way lands, waters, and natural resources are already managed in the Northwest Territories, it is useful to think of it as a system of integrated management
Integrated management is one way of describing the interconnected laws, agreements, and rules governing lands, waters, and resource management in the Northwest Territories.
These include Aboriginal and Treaty rights; federal legislation; land, water, and impact review boards; Land Claims, Land Use Plans, Self-Government, and Other Agreements; and existing territorial laws.
Because there are many laws, agreements, and rules already in place, the Mineral Resources Act needed to be designed to avoid duplicating what these measures already cover.
To understand the Bill, and the context in which it is being introduced, it is important to have an idea of the regulatory framework of the NWT. That’s because the Northwest Territories does things a bit differently than other places in Canada — and even around the world.
One territory, two systems
There are two regulatory regimes in the NWT. One was established under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement — the land claim agreement signed between the Inuvialuit peoples and the Government of Canada in 1984.
The other came about as part of the Gwich’in, Sahtu and Tłı̨chǫ final agreements, and is referenced in federal legislation through the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
In a broad sense, these agreements give the organizations in-charge of these settlement regions authorities to manage land and natural resources in their best interests. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act also makes sure responsible practices are followed in non-settled areas in the NWT.
In contrast to the provinces, the regulatory regimes in the NWT came about as a direct result of comprehensive land claim agreements, and are based on the principles of integration, coordination, and co-management. Indigenous rights are integrated into the regime.
Below is a summary of important measures already in place under these regulatory regimes, and through other laws, rules, and agreements governing land and natural resource management in the Northwest Territories.
The proposed Mineral Resources Act does not intend to change or alter any of them. It is designed to complement them.
Aboriginal and Treaty Rights
This Bill is designed to respect and recognize Aboriginal and Treaty Rights for Indigenous groups of the Northwest Territories.
Canada’s Constitution requires Aboriginal and Treaty rights to be respected in legislation.
Regional Land and Water Boards and Impact Review Boards
These boards are in place across the Northwest Territories were established under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the Gwich’in, Sahtu and Tłı̨chǫ land claim agreements, and through the federal government’s Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
Their main purposes are to regulate the use of land and water and, if required, conduct Environmental Assessments and reviews of large or complex projects.
Today, these include:
- Inuvialuit Water Board
- Inuvialuit Land Administration
- Inuvialuit Environmental Impact Review Board
- Gwich’in Land and Water Board
- Sahtu Land and Water Board
- Wek’èezhìi Land and Water Board
- Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board
Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board
These boards cover not just land and water under settled agreements, but also regions of the Northwest Territories where the Dehcho First Nations, Akaitcho First Nations, Acho Dene Koe First Nation, and the NWT Métis Nation continue to negotiate their rights and interests.
In practice, these bodies already regulate a lot of the social and environmental aspects of mining and mineral exploration projects, including (but not limited to):
- Financial securities for cleanup
- Land use
- Cleanup planning
- Project planning
- Environmental impact mitigation for industrial and infrastructure projects
- Wildlife concerns related to projects
- Water use
- Aboriginal Consultation requirements
Land Claim Agreements, Land Use Plans, Self- Government Agreements, and Other Agreements
Indigenous land claims and other natural resource management agreements play a big part in how land is administered in the Northwest Territories. There are currently several settled agreements and others currently under negotiation.
Once agreements are reached, they generally set out a plan for land use within the settled claim areas — called a Land Use Plan.
These plans set out how the land and natural resources will be used, conserved, or developed in the interests of those who settled the claim.
Other departments in the GNWT and the federal government administer different laws covering various aspects of land and natural resource management. Here are some relevant examples.
Federal Laws and Administration
Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act
This legislation and its regulations govern the vast majority of environmental aspects of resource development in the Mackenzie Valley. More information on how this legislation regulates mining activity in the NWT can be found here.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
This Act defines when a federal-level Environmental Assessment would need to be done on a project. It has been very rarely required in the NWT, given that the MVRMA covers most, though not all, of the NWT.
GNWT Department of Lands Laws and Administration
With authorities given to it by federal legislation, the Department of Lands holds onto most financial securities for rehabilitation work.
Financial securities are money that is required to be provided by the company ahead of time to cover clean- up costs in case the company goes out-of-business. If an owner/operator abandons a site or goes bankrupt, cleaning up the site may become the responsibility of the government that administers the land.
The government can then use any securities to clean up the site — ensuring that the owner/operator still pays for any damage done at the site.\
The amount of financial security held is determined by the land and water boards of the Northwest Territories.
Land Use Plans
The Department of Lands supports land use planning to guide decision- making about what activities should take place on public lands in the Northwest Territories. Land use planning helps create certainty for if, where, when and how development can take place.
these are the type of rights you would hold as a property owner. The GNWT holds on to surface rights of public lands through the Department of Lands even if mineral exploration is occurring below the ground.
For example, before a mine is built, surface rights in the form of a Surface Lease need to be granted in addition to all other licences and permits. Otherwise, a mine cannot be built and operated.
If there are any disputes between people, companies, or organizations on surface rights, an independent Surface Rights Board has the power to resolve the dispute.
GNWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources laws and administration
Through the Waters Act, the department is responsible for holding onto financial securities from companies whose projects might affect water in the Northwest Territories.
Through the Environmental Protection Act, Wildlife Act, Waters Act, and other pieces of legislation, much of the protection of land, water, and wildlife — including rules for industrial operations
— are governed by this department. Renewable Resource Boards, the Wildlife Management Advisory Council, and the Inuvialuit Game Council also play significant roles in wildlife management.
Cumulative Impacts Monitoring
Through responsibilities delegated under federal legislation, the department looks at natural resource management, development, and conservation holistically and monitors its effects on the territory.
Environmental Monitoring Agreements
The operators of both Diavik and Ekati Diamond Mines negotiated Environmental Agreements with territorial, federal, and Indigenous governments which established public boards to monitor environmental impacts from the projects.
De Beers negotiated a unique agreement with Indigenous governments for the Gahcho Kué mine and formed Ni Hadi Xa — an independent monitoring agency.
The proposed Mineral Resources Act does not suggest changing or replacing any of these existing rules or agreements.
In fact, it is specifically designed to give them space and respect their role in the Northwest Territories’ unique system of managing land, water, and natural resources.
This is why the proposed Mineral Resources Act is focused on things like getting benefits for NWT residents from mining, encouraging engagement, and effectively administering mineral exploration — not on things like environmental protection, mine clean-up, and wildlife management which are already managed through other means.