CANADA 150: Yellowknife’s toxic history through the eyes of the Betsina family – by Hilary Bird (CBC News North – June 28, 2017)

This story is part of a series from CBC North looking at Canada 150 through the eyes of northern families.

‘The government spoiled our lives,’ says Muriel Betsina. ‘Giant Mine spoiled our lives’

Muriel Betsina’s voice is soft and nurturing as she explains, step by step, how she makes the perfect piece of bannock. But ask her about the old mine site you can see out of her kitchen window in N’Dilo, N.W.T., and her voice drops. Her fists clench.

This tiny Dene elder has a rage that boils deep. “The government spoiled our lives,” says Betsina. “Giant Mine spoiled our lives.”

During more than half a century of mining, 19,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide dust went up the stacks of smelters at the Giant and Con mines and settled on the once-pristine land and lakes in and around Yellowknife. The gold mining industry began in the late 1930s. Giant Mine closed in 2004, leaving a toxic legacy that has deeply changed the lives of people in N’Dilo.

Betsina recalls stories from her childhood living in the bush of the Sahtu region of the N.W.T. As a young girl, she was sent to residential school in Fort Resolution. Soon after graduating, she moved to Yellowknife and met her husband, Frank. As the family matriarch, Betsina is an expert on the history of Yellowknife’s small Dene community, thanks, she says, to stories imparted by her mother-in-law.

“‘We were very wealthy in our own way,’ my mother-in-law said. She said, ‘We got food anywhere we want. We set nets anywhere we want just along the shore. The fish were small like this but they were just pure white,'” recounts Betsina.

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