What We Can Learn From Yellowknife’s Giant Mine

What We Can Learn From Yellowknife's Giant Mine

A Recurring Cycle

The Giant Mine in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories has been plaguing the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) for generations. Unfortunately, not many people know about it. If you’ve never heard of the Giant Mine, keep reading and you’ll learn why.

Between 1948 and 2004 the Giant Mine, supported by the Canadian government, produced seven million ounces of gold. With that, however, came 237,000 tons of arsenic – enough to kill the entire human population at least two times over.

Mining Death

How did this happen? Why hasn’t the Canadian government done more to clean up its mess!? For that matter, why has the government refused to support environmental activists on this issue?

Unsurprisingly, the colonial and patriarchal ideals that the Canadian government was built on, are still in motion today. With no warning of the contamination of water and food that they would face, the YKDFN have been on a healing journey for over 70 years since the Giant Mine’s opening.

Their plight should serve as a lesson for us all. Humans are deeply interconnected with the environment. As a result, it’s about time to discuss the interconnectedness between environmental activism and humankind’s well-being.

Stewart Udall quote, "Mining is like a search-and-destroy mission."
Click the image for a deep dive of Giant Mine, Yellowknife.

Lasting Effects

On December 2nd, 2020, YKDFN gathered for a feeding of the fire ceremony. Indigenous leaders, alongside a large crowd, called on the government to apologize for the creation of Giant Mine. They want the government to take ownership of the mess.

This includes providing compensation for the harm caused (no compensation was ever paid, but an apology is supposedly forthcoming). Another key demand is to ensure that YKDFN play a key role in the remediation of the land. The YKDFN maintained their stance in environmental activism to promote and ensure the betterment of their land.

Despite their plea, the cleanup has now been postponed until 2022. The YKDFN have been living with the life-threatening toxins caused by the Giant Mine for decades. Ignoring the inherent problems of untreated water and spoiled land, and allowing it to continue, is a direct violation of this community’s human rights.

Global Warming World GIF by INTO ACT!ON
Click the GIF to see how arsenic is affecting YKDFN lands.

They took the gold out of the ground and gave us nothing. Now they put the arsenic into the ground and give us nothing. What new monster will they unleash on us now?”

Johanne Black, Director of Treaty Rights and Governance [ATP News]

Health & Environmental Well-Being

I can’t help but recognize how environmental well-being is intertwined with an individual’s mental and physical health. The contamination of this land has only continued to spiral, as arsenic is not a toxin that simply disappears. Ignoring the disparity that the Canadian government has caused only furthers the poisoning of this community.

But, the YKDFN have been saying this all along. Environmental activism, although a key player in this fight, must fight to even stand against the embedded colonial nature of our governmental system. That is to say, the Canadian government supports environmental activism, until it gets in the way of their true motives.

Without any warning or protection from the government, locals were made to suffer the effects of the Giant Mine Monster (as the Yellowknives call it). Clearly this needs immediate fixing. The land and its peoples are not capable of flourishing as they once had unless the contamination is properly cleaned up.

Woman stretching on the mountain top.
Peace of mind is rooted in our connections with the land 🙂 [Image: Wesley Tingey / Unsplash]

Where Do We Go From Here?

On December 7th, 2020, the YKDFN sent out a petition. It called upon the Canadian government to acknowledge and apologize for their unjust actions in the opening of Giant Mine. The petition has since closed (March 7, 2021), but not before gaining 32,192 signatures.

The large number of signatures is a hopeful indication. It reflects the many people out there who are looking to help in the fight. While the government has yet to respond, hope remains for a potential “collaborative discussion process” that may lead to the cleanup of this land.

Although the petition has closed, you can still support the YKDFN and follow them on Instagram. For more information, check out the Giant Mine Monster website!

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