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Jani Djokic
CEO - Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation
Part of the Spotlight on Investing in Yukon’s Mining Sector

First Nation Investment into the Yukon’s Mining Sector

Takeaways

  1. Investors are increasingly looking for projects that have a focus on environmental, social, and governance benefits.
  2. Including First Nations governments and peoples in development and business projects will bring stability to Yukon’s economy.
  3. Cooperation between First Nations and mining companies presents opportunities for reinvestment back into First Nations communities.

Action

Mining companies and investors must begin viewing Indigenous communities as collaborators and benefits to their projects instead of risks. By meaningfully incorporating Indigenous communities into these projects, investors can ensure stability for their investments and give back to these communities.


What are the Yukon mining industry’s competitive advantages when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment? 

The Yukon mining industry has a very long legacy. It is part of the fabric of the Yukon territory. Our competitive advantages, speaking from the lens of a First Nations development corporation, is that our communities and First Nations have also shared that long experience with mining. Some aspects of it are negative, but others are positive. However, because of that long history, there is a very sound understanding of how the industry operates, what it takes to develop a successful project, and how we can do better. There are a lot of different grassroots and community-led initiatives to continuously improve the sector and to be involved with mining proponents here in the territory. We are that prime location where folks can come here and have a project and know that they are coming to an area that has a lot of capacity to engage in the industry to maximize the benefit for the territory. 

“The Yukon mining industry has a very long legacy. It is part of the fabric of the Yukon territory.” 


How does the inclusion of First Nations communities add value to Yukon’s foreign direct investment (FDI) attractiveness? 

In the mining sector, there is a global shift towards environmental, social, and governance (ESG) models of investing and impact investing. Here in Yukon, no investor or project can reach any ESG targets without meaningfully engaging First Nations governments, communities, peoples, and businesses within their projects. You are not going to have a meaningful investment if you do not have the inclusion of First Nations in Yukon as part of that investment. 

“Here in Yukon, no investor or project can reach any ESG targets without meaningfully engaging First Nations governments, communities, peoples, and businesses within their projects.” 

Investors now are increasingly looking for projects that are trying to meet these different ESG targets or different socioeconomic targets that benefit the communities in which they operate. 

Additionally, investors are continuously looking for stability with their investments. Mining is a very high-risk sector to operate within, and here in Yukon, if you are looking for stability, it means the inclusion of First Nations governments and peoples in your projects. That stability goes across all realms that intersect with a mineral development project, so we are looking at environmental stability, political stability, economic stability, and wellness for the communities. Engaging with First Nations in Yukon, and engaging with them early on, increases the stability of those projects. For FDI, investors are seeking to look at how well a company has engaged with the nations that exist in Yukon. 

In Yukon, we are looking for ways to have continued economic stability, so it is not just the inclusion of First Nations within the mineral sector directly; we are also looking for ways to increase economic stability regardless of the boom-and-bust cycle of mining. For example, we are just rolling out the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy, and that seeks to have greater investment in our First Nations businesses and First Nations workforce. Hopefully, what that will do in relation to the mining sector, is that regardless of the boom-and-bust cycle, First Nations businesses and communities will be engaged in different economic sectors. When the next project comes along, we will be further ahead than we were when the last project was here. We will be continuing that economic stability throughout that gap between projects. 


How involved are First Nations communities in Yukon’s mining industry and where do you see opportunities for growth? 

I see a huge area of opportunity within investment and ownership in projects.  

When I think of opportunities, I think of it from mainly two different approaches, but there are many different ways we can break that up. I look at the investment and ownership part and then I look at the procurement part.  

“We are working with mining companies to develop localized procurement strategies and policies to maximize the benefit for the local companies and the nations’ own corporations.” 

Typically, procurement has been surface level, and we are trying to break that open here in Yukon. We are working with mining companies to develop localized procurement strategies and policies to maximize the benefit for the local companies and the nations’ own corporations. When I say the nations’ own corporations, I mean the development corporations, which Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation (NNDDC) is. We are an economic arm of one of the self-governing nations of Yukon, and there is an opportunity to better engage the development corporations in these projects. Not only do we have access to funds that we can leverage to engage in larger opportunities, but in many respects, development corporations have the responsibility and purview of different services, programs, and infrastructure that are located in the communities. 

If we do not want to take a siloed approach to mining and realize that mining has an impact well beyond the mining site, working with the development corporations provides a really interesting opportunity to be reinvesting in the local economy and community. By capitalizing and working with the development corporations, we can see money flowing directly back to the nations and being reinvested into the communities so that we can have things like grocery stores, hotels, schools, and youth centres. All these aspects help make the mining industry a lot healthier. Without strong communities, you do not have strong investments. That is definitely an opportunity. 

“We are finding different ways to co-invest together to not just increase the money retained in NND’s traditional territory, but to retain the wealth kept by First Nations as a whole.” 

We also partner with a lot of other development corporations, recognizing that the impact of mining is not limited just to the traditional territory of a nation. There is a much greater impact on the region as a whole. We have done cool things, for example, the Kluane Dana Shäw Limited Partnership, which is the investment arm of Kluane First Nation. We purchased an aircraft with them to help service a lot of different exploration sites. We have also purchased a lot of equipment together that we lease back to Victoria Gold, which has the Eagle Gold Project in Na-Cho Nyäk Dun’s (NND) traditional territory. We are finding different ways to co-invest together to not just increase the money retained in NND’s traditional territory, but to retain the wealth kept by First Nations as a whole.  


What are some examples of cooperation between the mining industry and First Nations communities?  

At NNDDC, we have a subsidiary called Big River Mineral Exploration. That company is solely responsible for providing exploration services and providing geologists. We have partnered with a few different mineral resource developers in NND’s traditional territory to be working on their projects. We are trying to build up a local workforce that has the expertise to work on these projects and companies are opening the door for us to be there. We have also worked in collaboration for capital assets acquisitions. For example, we worked with Kluane Dana Shäw and we own a Cessna Caravan with them. This aircraft services a few different mineral resources development projects in the traditional territory of the First Nation of the Nacho Nyäk Dun.  

We have a very long list of what we term collaboration agreements. We work with a few different locally-based companies that work in sectors that we do not necessarily want to create businesses in. But we understand that working together is going to maximize different benefits. We have worked in collaboration with service providers and suppliers in the mineral resources industry and we are able to engage in different levels of projects. This includes everything from very early stage explorations to actual operations of a mine. Through these different partnerships in the supply and service sectors or mining industry, we have been able to maximize opportunities directly with the mineral resource sector in our traditional territory. 


What is your 30 second pitch for strengthening Yukon’s mining investment attractiveness and who would you pitch to? 

My 30-second pitch would be to shareholders who are seeking to invest or who are currently invested in projects. Shareholders should shift their thinking from viewing Indigenous groups as potential risks to their projects, and instead view them as benefits. 

“Shareholders should shift their thinking from viewing Indigenous groups as potential risks to their projects, and instead view them as benefits.” 

These matters become risks when we dismiss, devalue or ignore Indigenous groups or peoples. We should invest in projects that incorporate and meaningfully include Indigenous peoples throughout every stage and every aspect of a project. You need to recognize and acknowledge Indigenous peoples as the rightful stewards of their traditional territories. Indigenous groups were there before your project, will be there during your project, and will be there well after your project. You need to celebrate the groups that you work with and have them meaningfully involved in your projects. They are not a risk; they are only going to make your project better.   

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Jani Djokic
CEO - Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation

Bio: Jani Djokic is the CEO of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation. Prior to that, she held other positions at the corporation, including Chief Operating Officer and Director of Operations and Business Development. She was also involved in a research project with the Shareholder Association for Research and Education on the Indigenous employment reporting practices of 173 publicly traded Canadian companies. She has a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University. 

 

Organization Profile: The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation develops economic and employment opportunities for the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and its citizens. The corporation focuses on opportunities arising from mining, construction and property development projects within the traditional territory of the First Nation. They also explore investment opportunities outside of the traditional territory.