Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region sees gold: bright and yellow, hard and cold
"Hundreds of jobs, many contracts and... economic development to our region for decades to come"
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Huge trucks loaded with rocks rumble down a road near a flat-topped mesa at the Doris North camp, 90 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay.
Deep underground, there’s an expanding network of mine shafts, churning out gold-rich ore.
This the heart of Newmont Mining Corp.’s future Hope Bay mine complex, likely to become Nunavut’s second operating gold mine.
More than $100 million has already poured into the region for contracts with Kitikmeot Corp.-owned companies and other Inuit-owned firms, prompting Kitikmeot Inuit Association president Charlie Evalik to say the “KIA supports the Hope Bay project.”
“It will bring Inuit hundreds of jobs, many contracts and provide economic development to our region for decades to come,” said Evalik in his Oct. 18 report to the KIA annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay, referring to a trade-off that will produce some impacts to the environment.
The view during the 20-minute Twin Otter flight into the mine’s Doris North camp, located on the mainland, about 20 minutes from Cambridge Bay, includes close-ups of dramatic cuestas, which look more suited to a national park than a mine.
Similar rugged basalt mountains surround the gravel runway at Doris North, the centre of Newmont’s current activities and home to nearly 200 workers.
The Doris North deposit lies at the northern end of a belt of rock speckled with gold — much of it green in colour — and, fittingly, called a “greenbelt” by geologists.
First formed by volcanoes which erupted underwater 2.7 billion years ago, its rocks then got “smooshed, folded, and went under pressure and that’s how the gold got into it,” says Newmont geologist Andrew Orr.
Change may be slow for rocks, but it’s been fast at Doris North.
Five years ago there was nothing here but a small camp, Orr tells a group of amateur prospectors from Cambridge Bay during their Oct. 16 visit to the mine.
Now there’s an accommodation complex surrounded by outbuildings, lots of busy machinery, and, under the mesa, a new network of mine shafts which reach more than 70 metres underground.
About 340 workers are at the Hope Bay mine site at any one time, staying at the Doris North camp, the Boston camp and at floating hotel-like accommodations docked at nearby Robert’s Bay.
But Newmont’s plans for the future include even more workers, another camp and increased activity: a project with an open pit and underground mines, fed by gold deposits at Doris and at least five other major deposits within the 80 km-long greenstone belt.
In 2007, Newmont, the second largest gold producer in the world, bought Hope Bay’s three properties from Miramar Mining Corp. for $1.5 billion, but then decided in 2008 to put any mining development there on ice until economic conditions improved.
To move ahead, Newmont now has decide to invest in a mill to extract the gold from Hope Bay’s rocks.
That involves deciding that it’s economically viable to mine half an ounce of gold out of every tonne of rock.
Newmont will also have to send in a second project for review by the Nunavut Impact Review Board and make a “significant amendment application” to its water license, according to information tabled at this week’s KIA meeting.
Newmont and the KIA are gearing up to take those steps forward.
Earlier this year the KIA signed a “capacity” agreement with Newmont’s subsidiary, Hope Bay Mining Ltd..
The money attached to this deal allowed KIA to expand its lands, environment and resources department by two positions. It has also sparked a flurry of new KIA-related construction, including housing for new staff and a larger office in Kugluktuk, and the planned construction of larger new building for the KIA in Cambridge Bay.
The KIA is also negotiating a longer land lease and a traditional knowledge agreement with a Hope Bay Mining subsidiary so the company can access KIA’s traditional knowledge database and studies.
As Newmont moves ahead with its permitting, a new Inuit impact and benefits agreement is also under negotiation.
Without giving any details, Evalik says “I am sure our negotiating team will get Kitikmeot Inuit a good deal.”
A royalty deal is also in the works, which will see money flow into the KIA and to beneficiaries — this will be discussed by the KIA and the other regional Inuit organizations when they meet later this month in Cambridge Bay for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s annual general meeting.
The Nunavut Resource Corp., also chaired by Evalik, is also looking at investing in a string of microwave towers which would link the future Hope Bay mine — and ultimately the rest of the Kitikmeot — to the South’s fibre-optic telecommunications network.
That’s the behind-closed-doors action.
For people in the Kitikmeot, like Robert Maksagak, 29, Doris North has already opened up interesting new jobs.
Maksagak, of Cambridge Bay, recently started working as an environmental technician, helping with the monitoring of lands and waters around the mine site.
During his two-week rotation, he says he’s pressed for time to finish all his work. But that’s good, and makes him more eager to learn the ropes.
Katsky Venter, who is responsible for the “environment and social responsibility” section at Doris North, says she’s looking for two more technicians like Maksagak, also preferably from the Kitikmeot, for her department. Training supplied.
Upping the numbers of Inuit employed at the mine and by the many contractors on site is a priority for Newmont, says Alex Buchan, the manager of community and external relations for Newmont in Cambridge Bay.
The goal for next year is to reach 25 per cent Inuit employment at the mine and its contractors. That would amount to about 250 Inuit employed on site instead of the 160 Inuit now working there.
A tour of the underground mine shows it’s a dark, damp place, although in winter it’s less dark and much warmer than the outside.
The door or portal to the underground area opened last March, and miners started digging out rock for its tunnel-like chambers.
Now you can now gear up in metal-toed boots, a hard-hat and other safety gear and hop into a paneled truck to drive down into the mine.
Descending at a 15-degree angle, the shaft is steep. At one point, after about 10 minutes, you hit a part of the shaft where you can see a large vein of white quartz with flecks of gold in it stretching over the walls and roof.
That’s what Newmont is chasing.
If this rock had even one-fifth as much gold, but was located closer to a road or other transportation infrastructure, it would have been mined long ago.
But Hope Bay’s collection of deposits are now thought to contain about nine million ounces of gold.
And, with the price of gold at $1,662 an ounce, that’s billions dollars of worth, enough to fuel everyone’s interest in looking more closely at Hope Bay’s riches.