July 17th, 2024

First Nation seeks halt to Yukon mining after failure at gold mine


By The Canadian Press on July 3, 2024.

A First Nation in central Yukon is demanding an immediate halt of all mining activity in its traditional territory and an independent investigation into the recent failure of equipment at a gold mine which it says could be catastrophic.The Yukon territorial flag flies in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

MAYO, YUKON – A First Nation in central Yukon is demanding an immediate halt of all mining activity in its traditional territory, and an independent investigation into the recent failure of equipment at a gold mine which it says could be catastrophic.

The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun says in a statement that the severity of the environmental contamination from cyanide and other chemicals after a heap-leach pad failure at Victoria Gold’s Eagle Mine hasn’t been publicly revealed.

The statement says the incident on June 24 is the most recent of many examples of how a lack of mining regulation and negligent government oversight is threatening community and wildlife health and safety.

Work has been voluntarily halted at the mine north of Mayo after the company announced the failure of its heap-leach pad, part of the system that uses a cyanide solution to extract gold from ore, and a subsequent slide.

Yukon government officials said at a press conference last week that information was still being gathered on how much ore moved in the slide, how much cyanide was in the facility, what caused the collapse and whether any water was contaminated.

A statement from Yukon government spokeswoman Laura Seeley says Energy, Mines and Resources Minister John Streicker will be part of a second technical briefing scheduled for Thursday and that the government remains committed to working with the First Nation “to determine a path forward.”

“Our top priority in the immediate term is safeguarding the health and well-being of people and the environment,” she said.

The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun’s traditional territory covers more than 160,000 square kilometres, mostly in Yukon, and stretches from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., in the north to the South MacMillan River and Pelly River in the south, and from the Dempster Highway in the west to beyond the border with the Northwest Territories.

The First Nation’s statement says the event has implications on all life in the region, including salmon stock recovery.

Chief Dawna Hope says in the statement that the First Nation has been sounding the alarm for decades on the need for sustainable development and responsible mining.

“All mining activity must pause until there is a land-use plan that limits development and includes rigorous oversight and enforcement of mining and industrial operations on our territory,” she said.

“We will pursue every available avenue, including legal options, to protect and preserve our rights and to ensure that this environmental catastrophe is addressed and the lands and waters of our territory are safe for the fish, wildlife, and people that have relied on them for generations.”

A technical report on the Victoria Gold website says the primary heap-leach pad can hold up to 92 million tonnes of ore and that the cyanide solution can move through the facility at two million litres an hour.

The company has not provided an update on the situation since announcing the failure.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2024.

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