Prior to the 1990's, few northern Aboriginal people worked in the northern mining industry. The economies of our small northern communities were very poor, and virtually totally reliant on government jobs, support and social assistance. The discovery and subsequent mining of diamonds in the Northwest Territories saw significant changes to that situation. Our new diamond mines made strong commitments to training and hiring locally, and in particular, Aboriginal residents. They also committed to conducting business in the north, and with Aboriginal businesses, which were virtually non-existent 25 years ago. The mining companies' commitments are outlined in Socio-Economic Agreements with the NWT Government and with Benefit and Participation Agreements with Aboriginal Governments. Additionally, the Federal and Territorial Governments have committed to share resource royalties with almost all Aboriginal governments. In one region, the Tlicho Government negotiated to collect 95% of the income tax generated by residents of their land claim region to help them self-govern. The many high paying mining jobs their residents fill means higher income taxes are generated, allowing that Aboriginal self-government to do more.
So what do the statistics show? In 2015, our mines provided 1,894 northern jobs, of which 880 were northern Aboriginal workers. Our mines conducted $688 million in northern business, of which $319 million was with Aboriginal companies. Remember, 25 years ago, these figures would have been almost zero in both categories.
Over the longer period 1996-2015, since diamond mining began, the diamond mines have created:
- over 24,000 person years of employment and about half the jobs are Aboriginal
- over $12 billion dollars in northern business, of which over $5 billion is with a whole new generation of Aboriginal businesses
- and the mines have invested over $100 million in northern communities.
An economic analysis conducted in 2008 of the early days of mine development showed that with the significant increase in northern and Aboriginal employment, the NWT also witnessed a significant decrease in social assistance payments as residents were able to find high paying jobs in the mines.
The overall result from diamond mining and its spin off benefits is that today there are more people than previously joining the middle class, with well paying jobs helping them to raise their families, contributing to healthier, more self-sustaining communities, and a stronger NWT economy.
At the same time, the mines are operating to highest environmental standards, overseen by a regulatory system that has arisen from Aboriginal land claims, and that is overseen by regulatory boards with members appointed 50:50 by Aboriginal and public governments.
Diamond mining in the Northwest Territories is a good example of what is possible to help alleviate poverty, and to do it responsibly.
In Nunavut, our younger mining industry is on a similar track to creating significant new benefits to communities, their residents, and both Inuit and public governments.
Consultation has concluded