The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has withdrawn its support for a massive project that would see roads, hydro and communication lines built through mineral-rich areas northeast of Yellowknife.
In 2019, the First Nation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Northwest Territories government on the $1.1-billion Slave Geological Province Corridor project. The project includes plans to construct a 413-kilometre, two-lane gravel road between part of the N.W.T. and western Nunavut.
The idea is to create new economic opportunities that benefit both territories.
Dettah Chief Ed Sangris told the CBC that the agreement would give the Yellowknives Dene First Nation a seat at a working group that would oversee the project and help with the study phase.
“None of that happened,” Sangris said, referencing the terms of the agreement. “The government basically just used the Aboriginal group to get funding from the feds.”
In a statement, the First Nation said the territory issued a $20-million contract to two multinational consulting firms from southern Canada to take on the engineering, environmental and consultation work before the project could enter the construction phase.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation, through its company Det’on Cho Environmental, also bid on the study, but was unsuccessful.
The statement says the tender was developed with “absolutely no input” from the First Nation’s leadership and that, if consulted, the territorial government would have decided the nation was best suited to take on the job.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation also signed a letter of support for the project, which helped the territory get $30 million for it from Transport Canada, the nation’s statement says.
“The … letter of support was given based on the premise that we would be able to have input on how that money was best utilized,” the statement reads. “We now know that our support for the GNWT’s funding request was provided under false pretences.”
Sangris said the First Nation sent a letter to Premier Caroline Cochrane on Friday as formal notice of its withdrawal of support. The First Nation said it has not yet received a response.
Yellowknives Dene First Nation says it is also withholding its support for other territorial projects until the N.W.T. government reviews its procurement policies and prioritizes northern businesses.
The CBC has reached out to the territorial government for comment but has not yet received a response.