Critical minerals hailed by GN could be locked away by land-use plan

3 ongoing exploration projects in territory stand to be hemmed in by limited-use areas

This graphic shows the 31 critical minerals the Canadian government has prioritized for development, and some of their uses. (Graphic courtesy of Government of Canada)

By Jorge Antunes

As the federal government gears up to spend billions in an effort to become a world leader in mining critical minerals, some say the latest draft of Nunavut’s land-use plan could effectively lock up the territory’s supply for good.

A federal government map details current critical mineral exploration sites in Nunavut. (Image courtesy of Government of Canada)

“You’ve got tremendous geology all around Nunavut that can hold some of these minerals,” said Tom Hoefer, executive director of Nunavut’s chamber of mines. “So it’s a good opportunity for future growth.”

As the world’s economies shift toward low-carbon energy, China controls much of the critical mineral supply chain needed to power that shift.

In December 2022, Canada’s federal government announced it will put $3.8 billion toward cracking open its own reserves.

The government maintains an interactive critical minerals map that lists more than 175 exploration sites across the country, as well as 56 mines.

Of those, three exploration projects are located in Nunavut: MMG Ltd.’s Izok Lake and High Lake sites, located in the Kitikmeot region, hold zinc, copper, silver, lead and gold; and Canadian North Resources Inc.’s Ferguson Lake, in the Kivalliq region, carries potential for nickel, copper, palladium, platinum and cobalt.

Meanwhile, a long-sought land-use plan for Nunavut is sitting with its signatories — the Canadian government, Nunavut government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. — for consideration.

Plan could ‘strand’ projects: senator

A land-use plan for Nunavut is mandated under the Nunavut Agreement. It’s meant to balance economic development with environmental protection. But four drafts and 16 years later, the parties have yet to come to an agreement on what that balance should look like.

Ferguson Lake lies in an area that would be designated as limited use under the latest draft of the plan, while MMG’s High Lake and Izok Lake are surrounded by limited-use land.

Neither MMG nor Canadian North Resources responded to requests for comment for this story.

New exploration and mining projects stand to be banned in limited-use areas because of environmental concerns. Even though existing exploration projects and mines will see their development approvals grandfathered in, they will be limited to their existing footprint.

The Nunavut Planning Commission’s map details proposed land-use designations as part of the current draft of the Nunavut land-use plan. Areas in red are designated as limited use, which would prohibit development. (Image courtesy of Nunavut Planning Commission)

On top of that, much of the land proposed to be locked away in the land-use plan has never been explored for critical minerals, according to Hoefer.

“If we have deposits that are now constrained by limited use areas, it will make investors shy away from investing in Nunavut,” he said.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson shares Hoefer’s concern.

“The draft Nunavut land-use plan, without revision, in my opinion, strands known or existing projects with potential to become mines,” Patterson said.

Critical minerals seen as Nunavut’s ‘future’

Yet, with this draft in hand, all signs point to the GN being keen on opening up Nunavut’s critical minerals.

“Diversifying our mining sector into critical minerals is where the future is [and that is] where I see the future for Nunavut,” said Paul Budkewitsch, manager of mineral resources with the Department of Economic Development.

He’s quick to note the plan is only a draft, but acknowledges it creates “a lot of uncertainty.”

The GN’s current mineral exploration and mining strategy dates back to 2009 and does not include critical minerals, but the department is planning to update it by the end of 2024.

For David Akeeagok, minister of economic development and minister responsible for mines, the end goal for Nunavut is to be economically self-sufficient — and to do that, Nunavut must dig.

“One of my key messages to [the federal government is], ‘We need to untap the resources here,’” he said.

What about Gray’s Bay road?

But with no roads to Nunavut, it’s very expensive for mining companies to export their ore from the territory.

One dream to eliminate that barrier is the $554-million Gray’s Bay Road and Port project, which would serve a particularly mineral-rich area of Nunavut called the Slave Geological province.

The all-weather road would link this region to supply chains in the south via a winter road that leads to Yellowknife and Gray’s Bay port to the north. It’s been touted as a nation-building project.

Senator Patterson said that Inuit groups, the GN and private interests are all “keenly” aware of the road and port’s potential to make a significant amount of possible mineral deposits more accessible.

“Once the regulatory process begins, it’ll be natural to seek federal infrastructure funds from the critical minerals strategy to help build it,” he said.

But it’s unclear if anyone in Nunavut is pushing the project forward, after the Kitikmeot Inuit Association backed out of the role late last year.

The KIA had taken the lead on the project after the GN pulled out in 2018.

Nunatsiaq News has reached out to the GN to ask if the territorial government has taken on Gray’s Bay once again, but has not received a reply.

Talking to Nunavummiut

As for Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, she said she is less concerned about the potential of critical minerals than she is about the federal government’s strategy to get at them.

She admits she hasn’t closely read the strategy but points out it includes goals to speed up the regulation and consultation process.

Idlout, a lawyer, has a background of advocating for Inuit who oppose development on their land when it harms wildlife they depend on for subsistence.

Most recently, she represented a group of hunters from Pond Inlet who blockaded the air strip and tote road to the Mary River iron mine in protest of a proposed expansion of the mine. That expansion was eventually rejected.

“I’m leaning towards becoming anti-mining, but I know how important critical minerals are for the functioning of our societies,” Idlout said.

Share This Story

(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by PRO DEVELOPEMENT on

    Don t forget to get permission from the ” LAND GUARDIANS”

  2. Posted by Good! on

    Let’s just stick with and focus on the mines we already have. No need to make it sound so dire, we want to get our little population going first. The others can wait, open up some free trade with China. Capitalism crushes.

    • Posted by Human Flourishing on

      Yes, capitalism is the worst economic system imaginable – except for all the others.

  3. Posted by From Nunavut to Yellowknife: Tom’s Misguided GPS on

    The Nunavut Chamber of Mines….. It seems more apt to refer to it as the “Yellowknife Chamber” given the representation and focus. Tom, in particular, does not seem to truly represent the interests and concerns of Nunavut. It’s essential for such chambers to have genuine representation in the Territory to ensure the voices of all regions are heard and considered.

  4. Posted by Economic Self-sufficiency on

    “For David Akeeagok, minister of economic development and minister responsible for mines, the end goal for Nunavut is to be economically self-sufficient — and to do that, Nunavut must dig.”
    A pile of dug-up minerals, in and of itself, does not offer economical self-sufficiency. Neither does selling the minerals for a penny a pound.
    Economical self-suffiency requires that the minerals be used by Nunavummiut in Nunavut to produce goods and provide services that Nunavut can sell to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world.
    To do that we need a population able to design, build and use technology.
    We may have to sell some minerals at a penny a pound for awhile to pay for the education and training, and to get the capital needed to start using minerals in Nunavut. But the sooner we start owning our own processing and manufacturing (no matter how small scale) the sooner we will be on the path to true economic self-sufficientcy.
    The alternative is to become another Saudi Arabia, with a few very-rich people, most people very poor with no prospects, and most of the work done by foreigners. That seems to be our current path. Do you want to continue along that path?

    • Posted by Got Lost on

      Foreigners? I followed your analogy until then, and then I lost it. The foreign employee population in Nunavut is tiny.

      • Posted by Putting this out there on

        At the mines…. Inuit are the minority… foreigners (people not from Nunavut) are the majority.
        Might not be the best choice of words using foreigners (as usually refers to people not part of the country).

        • Posted by Always on

          Not usually, but always and exclusively it refers to people who are not from the country.

      • Posted by hermann kliest on

        Got lost; “is to tiny” is too big, so Feds and GN decided to go for “New Canadians” to fill in the positions, crap, so screw the local population again and go international? looks like Inuit are going to be scrapes at the bottom of the barrel again…Look at Arviat; my little grand children can’t understand accents and are in trouble for not “understanding English” if I could only swear at the Minister of Ed and the local principles at ARV schools. AAGGHH.

        • Posted by Take Some Ownership on

          If your children have shortcomings in their language education maybe step up to the plate and help them learn. Not all learning should be done at school by a teacher. Parents can and should be teaching their children too.

    • Posted by Sam on

      Penny a pound, what planet do you live on, it costs 1200.00 an ounce to produce an ounce of gold, and if you had any concept about business, you would understand what those cost to produce that ounce are. But I can babble like you a penny a pound, another anti mining keyboard warrior, that knows nothing

      • Posted by $1200 on

        It may cost 1200.00 to produce an ounce of gold.
        Who gets the $1200?
        A tiny bit for Inuit workers.
        A tiny bit for the landowners.
        A tiny bit for the GN.
        Who gets almost all of the $1200?
        Who really benefits from the gold mine?
        Investors get their investment back, get dividends, get profit.
        Providers of goods and services get revenue and profit.
        Inuit workers get experience, salary, expenses, and time away from their family.
        Nunavut gets a hole in the ground, poisonous mine tailings and, if history is any indication, water that is unfit to drink and a massive cleanup bill at the end.
        And then there’s the caribou. They were here long before we were. What do they get?

        • Posted by Sam on

          The only thing that is a penny a pound keyboard warrior, is that thing between your ears, that you call a brain, and if you did any kind of research or listened to the premiers announcements, you would understand a little tiny bit, how resource development contributes to this fragile economy,and employment, and yes what about the caribou, check out the who harvests the caribou, it’s people.

          • Posted by John WP Murphy on

            And who is stopping any group from starting a caribou “farm”?
            Like other animals – breed, raise slaughter, and feed the people.
            It’s been done before.

    • Posted by Devil’s Avocado on

      Processing and manufacturing? Can you imagine if we applied this to Mary River? We’d need to start mining coal to smelt the ore and power the manufacturing. A lot of coal. I gather there’s some low grade coal near Pond Inlet, conveniently. For the critical minerals, what exactly would we be processing and manufacturing?

      I don’t think you grasp the scale and complexity of the global industrial production that is responsible for our current quality of life. Even if you are towards the bottom of the income distribution in Nunavut in some material ways you are fairly wealthy by historical standards.

  5. Posted by Ex Raglan er on

    Tough issue, the land use. The land once mined is not the same, for the most part it doesn’t provide a sufficient supportive base for animals and fish.

  6. Posted by John WP Murphy on

    Oh! Did I forget a fish farm?


Comments are closed.