No growth in North without respect, Edmonton conference told – by Dave Cooper (Calgary Herald – October 13, 2011)

Manpower ‘a major concern’ because of region’s low population and lagging education levels

EDMONTON – With an estimated 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas, about 13 per cent of its potential oil and big slice of its diamond production, Canada’s North holds a treasure chest of riches.

But the fast-growing region faces immense challenges that don’t register with most southern Canadians, including climate change, which is melting the ice sheets once used as virtual highways — forcing aboriginal inhabitants and the wildlife they depend on for food to adapt.

Economic opportunities for the small population scattered across the vast region are also significant, but a policy conference Wednesday was told that respect for the land and people of the North is the only way development will be sustainable and successful.

In the Yukon, 11 of 14 First Nations have land-claim agreements, modern treaties that give them considerable clout in economic development. Such arrangements with northern aboriginals now cover 40 per cent of Canada.

“Many are now establishing business partnerships with other entities in preparation for future development and revenue streams to sustain their communities,” said Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Yukon First Nations, speaking at Canada’s North Beyond 2011, an Edmonton event organized by the Conference Board of Canada and Centre for the North.

The mineral-rich Yukon is in the midst of a mining boom, and the situation is similar in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. has a major gold mine north of Baker Lake, and plans a larger project near Rankin Inlet.

With 1,160 employees at an open pit, year-round operation, the economic impact has been tremendous on Nunavut, said Louise Grondin, senior vice-president for the firm.

“Since 2007 we have invested $1.4 billion, and 48 per cent of the expenditures have been with Nunavut-based suppliers,” Grondin said.

Many of the employees are local people, and the mine is a major employer in the region.

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