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Kaska call for review of Faro's cleanup contracts

The Yukon's Kaska are calling for an independent review of the Faro mine's cleanup project. The project promises to return what was once the territory's - and even Canada's - biggest lead-zinc mine into clean, green land with healthy water.

The Yukon’s Kaska are calling for an independent review of the Faro mine’s cleanup project.

The project promises to return what was once the territory’s - and even Canada’s - biggest lead-zinc mine into clean, green land with healthy water.

But the First Nations claim the project is being mismanaged.

“If the governments have nothing to hide and are confident that their staff are competent and that public funds have been judiciously used to date, then there should be no reason for them to object to a review,” said Chief Liard McMillan of the Liard First Nation in a release this week.

First Nations have been concerned about their lack of authority over the project and insufficient local hiring for years, but things got worse when the territory took over in 2003, the Kaska say.

Earlier this month, they publicly decried the project and requested Ottawa take back responsibility for it.

Without much response from Ottawa or Whitehorse, the Kaska are now offering to use their own money for a review, so long as all parties agree that the review be independent and that its conclusions and recommendations be followed.

“We are not interested in a mock review where the government pats themselves on their back,” said Chief Jack Caesar of the Ross River Dena Council. “The Kaska and Yukon public deserve to know how this project is being managed.”

The Faro mine processed ore for three decades before closing in 1998, leaving a 25-square-kilometre footprint of contaminated water, millions of tonnes of tailings and unstable structures, like dams, that prevent wildlife from returning to the area.

Before being relocated for the mine, the Ross River Dena used the area, year-round, for hunting, trapping and fishing, said Caesar.

It was Kaska prospectors who helped Al Kulan discover the Vangorda Creek deposit, nearly 50 kilometres downstream of the community of Ross River, in 1953.

But during the mine’s life, the First Nation saw very little, if any, benefit from it, Caesar said. Now, the land isn’t used traditionally because even if the wildlife returns, the ecosystems are contaminated, he added.

And local companies vying for cleanup jobs are being pushed aside for those from Outside, asserted Alex Morrison, general manager of the Liard First Nation Development Corporation.

“Both the territory and Canada say that we’re equal partners but they come up with models where we’re just rubber stamps,” said Morrison.

Territorial officials insist they awarded contracts to the best people for the job. CH2M Hill, a Canadian company, won the project’s main, five-year, $20-million contract in 2011.

That company is a world leader in the cleanup industry, according to the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

But the size and scope of this project could offer the perfect stepping stone to help local First Nation companies become the best option for this project, and others in the future, said Morrison.

Both Ottawa and the territory say they look forward to continuing to work with the Kaska and the Selkirk First Nation, which is immediately downstream of the mine site.

But the Kaska have declined money for their two seats on the project for this next season, said Gerry Kerr, the technical adviser for the Ross River Dena Council.

The community co-ordinators are accountable to the territory, not their home communities, and they have no power or decision-making authority, said Kerr. Those seats are “just check marks,” he said.

“When Canada was managing the project, it committed to aboriginal procurement laws, meaning the affected First Nations received preferential treatment for contracts, jobs and training,” he said.

When the territory took over, it didn’t agree to follow those laws, Kerr added.

As well as calling for a review, and offering to pay for it, the Kaska also offered a plan to the territory and Canada in March with an option of how they would like the project to move forward.

Neither government has responded yet, said Kerr.

The letter asking for an independent review of the project was sent to John Duncan, federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Premier Darrell Pasloski, Treasury Board chair Tony Clement and the auditor general of Canada.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at