Yukon has a new agreement with Ottawa on how the two governments split up the spoils from natural-resource extraction in the territory.
Premier Darrell Pasloski and John Duncan, the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, signed the new deal at the Minto mine on Tuesday, marking Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first announcement on his annual northern tour.
The new deal, drafted during Harper’s visit last year, raises the amount of resource money the territory may keep.
Currently, Ottawa lets the territory keep up to $3 million of the royalties collected from mines on Crown land. Anything above that goes to the federal government.
Under the new deal, the territory can keep up to $6 million. And the Yukon may later switch to a formula that allows it to keep half of all resource revenues, when enough money is collected to make this advantageous.
“This really sets the stage of opportunity for the Yukon,” said Brad Cathers, minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, following the signing of the agreement.
Currently, the territory splits the first $2 million it makes from mining with First Nations, and 10 per cent of any money after that. First Nations have asked for a bigger cut. Cathers didn’t say whether this would change.
The new deal won’t mean much until more mines open, said Cathers. Harper predicts that will happen.
“In the next 10 years, more than 500 large, new development projects will be proposed for Canada,” he said. “Together, these new investments will be worth more than half a trillion dollars.
“Much of that growth will be here in the North. Such is the magnitude of the North’s resource wealth that we are only, quite literally, scratching the surface.”
Resource development is only part of the prime minister’s “unprecedented” strategy for the three territories.
He also promised to ensure parks are protected, northern governments are handed more responsibility and Canada’s northern borders are defended.
The crux of doing all that, however, comes back to mining, he said.
Combating social challenges can “become so much simpler if we can get economic development driving some wealth accumulation here,” said Harper.
He motioned to the throng of Minto mine workers that stood behind him, saying he was “particularly pleased” to see so many aboriginal employees.
“One of the great opportunities of the resource development we’re going to see in the decades to come is that a lot of it is occurring in areas where aboriginal people are a predominant element of the population and where they have, for a long time, lacked economic opportunities,” he said.
But the Minto mine is unique, as the only mine in the Yukon that sits on First Nation settlement land.
The Selkirk First Nation selected the area in its land claim. It owns the land and any minerals under it.
It negotiated its own lease arrangement with Capstone Mining Corp. which includes jobs, training and total reclamation of the land before it is given back to the First Nation.
It also means that the Pelly Crossing-based aboriginal government receives all royalties from the copper mine, which is now expected to continue operating until 2022.
Between that and taxes paid to the territory, Capstone has doled out about $31 million since it started commercial production in 2007, said Darren Pylot, the company’s president, CEO and director.
Chief Kevin McGinty wouldn’t offer exact details on the cut the First Nation takes but said it was “substantial.”
Most of it gets set aside for priorities like education and health, he said.
But not all of it.
In a recent special general assembly, the First Nation decided on a $15,000 one-time payout for all of its nearly 600 citizens.
“From the ages of 21 and up,” said McGinty. “For the ones that are under the age of 21, it’s being held in a trust and invested for the children.”
Other community benefits have also been felt by the First Nation, thanks to its work and agreements with Capstone. For example, the mining company just helped build a new water treatment plant for Pelly Crossing, so the community can have clean drinking water.
“You can see the change in the First Nation from where we’re at today compared to 10, 15 years ago,” said McGinty. “The opportunities are a lot more available than they were in the past. The land has sustained us for generations and will continue to sustain our people for future generations.”
Plus, the territory’s first post-devolution hard-rock mine provided the opportunity to have Harper visit and speak directly to the chief.
“This event sort of puts Selkirk on the map,” said McGinty. “And the message from Selkirk First Nation is that if development happens in the North, it must be responsible, safe and include First Nation participation.”
But not all Yukon First Nations were happy to see the prime minister.
The Carcross/Tagish First Nation protested Harper’s stop at the Caribou Crossing Heritage Centre on Monday, where he attended a Conservative barbecue.
The Tlingit group has been trying to negotiate its next financial transfer from Ottawa ever since it refused Canada’s offer on the principle that it was a “take-it-or-leave-it,” despite the First Nation’s constitutional right to negotiate, said Chief Danny Cresswell.
Coming to the First Nation’s traditional territory for a private function after efforts to have a meeting with Duncan have been cancelled or ignored, was like a “slap in the face,” according to the protesters.
After multiple calls to MP Ryan Leef’s office last week, Cresswell was able to learn about the gathering and garner an invitation.
After going inside, speaking with Harper and handing him a letter, Cresswell walked back across the road to cheers from the gathering of about 40 who were draped in traditional button blankets and banging hide hand drums.
“Are we going to get our money?” one protestor called out.
“Not yet,” Cresswell said. “But they want to settle this as much as we do. They haven’t been getting the whole story. But he knows it now.”
Duncan promised to return to speak with the First Nation on Friday, Cresswell said.
The current money transfer, which makes up almost all of Carcross/Tagish’s budget, runs out in 10 days.
Harper will be in the North until Friday and announced a new national park in the Northwest Territories today.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at