Placer mining in the Dawson region. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Don’t let Dawson City’s UNESCO debate pit miner against miner

If miners shut this project down, how will others feel about us?

By Stuart Schmidt

The nomination of Trondek-Klondike for UNESCO world heritage designation is a contentious subject and I am concerned that it is causing a rift within the membership of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association (KPMA) and among the placer mining community at large. I would like to try to explain why I support the UNESCO nomination even though there may be no immediate or apparent benefit to gold miners or our organization.

I have not forgotten 2003 when the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans cancelled the Yukon Placer Authorization and we were faced with the prospect of most of us not being able to operate any longer or only being able to operate in a very limited fashion in only a few areas. I was truly grateful for all the people in the Yukon who came out and voiced their support for placer mining both in Dawson and across the territory.

I was and continue to be especially grateful to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. They came out fully in support of all of us and they carry a lot of political clout. This I have not forgotten and to this day I feel indebted to them for their support during those challenging times. They could have easily just stood idly by and watched the end of our industry and way our life, but instead they vocally supported placer mining.

When TH first came to KPMA asking us to support the nomination, I really tried to avoid the issue because I saw it as a liability for the mining community. It eventually came to the point where the government of the day told us that if we did not support the project they would not support it. We were faced with the burden of killing this nomination or helping our neighbors and friends — the very people who helped us in spades in 2003 — and I felt that we needed to return this favor and that we should do it in such a way that minimized the potential downside for the mining community.

As such, we retained long-time Dawson placer miner Tara Christie from Gimlex Enterprises to work with the UNESCO nomination committee to do just that, and I think she did a very good job at informing the nomination about the history and concerns of our industry.

As a result, placer mining is an integral part of this application.

Because of the outstanding concerns expressed by many miners regarding the nomination, Ranj Pillai, Yukon’s Minister of Energy Mines and Resources is contacting UNESCO directly to seek assurances from them that world heritage designation will have no adverse impacts on our industry.

We also need to make sure potential hard rock mining interests are respected in this project. People have been looking for a lode deposit between Eldorado and Bonanza for many years and the work is ongoing. It would be both wrong and unfair to not consider this significant history, investment and potential in the application, and I am pleased to know that quartz interests have been taken into account.

There are no guarantees in this world for anything. We all die, good and bad things happen and we do our best to avoid the worst and leave the world a better place. No one can guarantee that things will be the same for us 10 or 20 years down the road.

I know that many of you believe that as soon as Trondek-Klondike becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site we will be swamped with environmental organizations seeking the elimination of mining from the area. Let me tell you, we already have that and have had it for years. International environmental organizations have long maintained offices in Whitehorse with full-time paid staff and considerable resources at their disposal.

In my opinion, the best way to maintain placer mining and our way of life is to foster a strong community spirit that believes what we are doing is responsible and good for our community. We do that by working within our community not just for our own interests but also for the interests of others. I want to maintain and build our relationship with the local community, and TH is an integral part of that community. If we shut this project down, how will they feel about us? Instead of building a strong community that sticks together we will fragment and I believe lose far more than a false sense of security from defeating this UNESCO project.

I ask my fellow miners to consider what I am saying here. If this is any one person’s fault it is mine. I am sorry I have caused you grief but I still believe that the right thing to do is to support this project. I believe it is more important to build a strong community of both miners and non-miners, First Nations and non-First Nations, than to narrowly protect our own interests. By doing this we will both protect ourselves from organizations outside the territory and make Dawson a better place for all of us.

I appreciate the concerns that have been brought up. This discussion has been important and your concerns are valid. Now, instead of killing the project let’s do our best to address those concerns and at the same time build our community.

Stuart Schmidt is the past president of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association.