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Shelagh Rowles
Executive Director - Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, Yukon University
Part of the Spotlight on Investing in Yukon’s Mining Sector

Yukon’s Path to Inclusive Resource Development

Takeaways

  1. Sound legislation and a concerted effort from the Yukon government to involve First Nations communities in mining development has made the Yukon a stable environment for business.
  2. Locally-based innovations are key to the Yukon’s growth as these innovations will directly address the specific needs of the region.
  3. Yukon is unique in the North for its accessibility both by car and air, making it a prime location for investment.

Action

Government has played a crucial role in engaging First Nations communities in Yukon, giving them a voice on the development projects happening in the territory. With continued government support, the strengthening of such relationships will only lead to more stability and prosperity for the region.


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

Yukon is one of the most educated jurisdictions per capita in Canada. We have the greatest number of people with master’s degrees and PhDs. Often, people do not know that, but that is one of our realities. Also, Yukon communities are connected by roads, and this is really unique in the north. All but one of our communities in the territory can be reached by vehicle. We have several land claims and Self-Government Agreements. Eleven of the 14 First Nations have settled their land claims with Self-Government Agreements, which provides certainty for people.  

“Yukon is one of the most educated jurisdictions per capita in Canada.” 

We are also connected by roads to Alberta and British Columbia. We have regularly scheduled airline service with four airlines active in the territory. These are the pre-COVID-19 airlines, but we have our own airline, Air North, which has a series of jets that have multiple flights daily in and out of Vancouver as well as Calgary and Edmonton. We have WestJetAir Canada, and we also have direct flights in and out of Frankfurt in the summer through Condor Airlines. Yukon also has a newly established university, and we have a territorial government that is really supportive and committed to developing and diversifying Yukon’s economy. 


What makes Yukon an attractive place to invest in mining? 

Yukon has really rich mineral prospectivity. For example, there are many mineral discoveries in the territory, but that only accounts for discoveries within 12% to 15% of Yukon’s landmass. We know that there is more out there. The mineral discoveries to date indicate a strong likelihood of additional rich mineral deposits in regions within the territory. The minerals that are mined in the territory are typically copper, silver, zinc, lead, and gold, and those minerals are really crucial for the future economy. We know that copper is going to be crucial for manufacturing clean technology such as electric cars, as well as the ever-evolving and expanding digital networks. Zinc has the potential to store energy. Silver also plays an important role, and gold is going to become an increasingly important commodity, at least in the near future with the volatility that we are seeing globally. 

“There are many mineral discoveries in the territory, but that only accounts for discoveries within 12% to 15% of Yukon’s landmass.” 

I mentioned earlier that our land claims and self-government processes have been instrumental in creating some stability in the territory, defining the relationships among First Nations governments, the territorial government, and the federal government. Companies will know who they need to negotiate with. Yukon has a territorial government that is very supportive of diversification in the territory, and they are also very supportive of the mining industry. They want to see it be able to develop. 

“Yukon has a territorial government that is very supportive of diversification in the territory, and they are also very supportive of the mining industry.” 

The other thing that Yukon offers is that we know that there are mineral deposits that have been depleted because of mining across the world—the easy access ones. In Yukon, we acknowledge that we are remote, but we are safe. We have an environment where companies can come in and know that they can work here and that they are safe. Their employees are safe, and they are in an environment that is not hostile towards what they are doing. We see that as an increasingly attractive piece of what Yukon can offer. 


What is the innovation ecosystem like in Yukon and what innovations increase the mining sector’s attractiveness to investors? 

If we go back to 2012 or 2013, it was a time when we saw the mining industry in the territory start to come back after a long hiatus in the 1990s. A big part of that was driven by the high gold prices that were happening globally, but we also had some incredibly innovative work from Shawn Ryan and the GroundTruth Exploration team. What they were looking at is exploration and repurposing existing technologies to improve how they did what they did in the exploration sector. That was driven by two things: one, they were motivated to have credible and affordable exploration processes and activities; secondly, they were also interested in trying to reduce environmental impact. There had been some newer approval processes introduced in Yukon, and what they wanted to do was to make it so that for everything that they did, they did not have to put in a new approval application and have it go through a long process. GroundTruth discovered ways to reduce the level of intrusion typically associated with the exploration process. They actually reduced it by 75%. Shawn Ryan’s understanding of the geography of the region and mapping software helped him successfully alter conventional soil sampling and unglaciated sites. In the Yukon, we have this area called Beringia that was never glaciated, so any assumptions that you would have for exploration in other jurisdictions or even other parts of the Yukon did not exist in Beringia, and he made that connection.  

“GroundTruth discovered ways to reduce the level of intrusion typically associated with the exploration process.” 

Rather than relying on a sampling system intended for previously glaciated regions, he realized that rock samples sitting just below the surface were never moved by glaciation. Therefore, they represented the minerals that were deeper in the soil. This discovery cut the time required for target generation from two months to two weeks. Industry informants identified Ryan’s innovations and repurposing of technology such as drones, DC resistivity polarization surveys, rotary air-blast drills, and reverse circulation drills. They used these all in really creative ways to make it so that they had very little actual disruption of the soil and land. It fundamentally changed the exploration activity in the territory, making it faster, more affordable, and locally specific. 

What did we see from that? We saw that there is real economic and environmental benefit from locally-based innovation. Had that been done anywhere else, they would not have made the connections to what our geographically specific needs were.  


How can Yukon ensure the mining sector’s development while meeting increased demand for ESG policies? 

There were a number of developments that were happening in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s where First Nations people were excluded from any discussion on resource development activities in the territory. The economic priorities were put above the social and environmental priorities. Back in 1972, Yukon First Nations came forward to the Government of Canada and said, “We want to be a part of this story and a part of what happens in the territory.” As such, they introduced this document called Together Today for our Children Tomorrow that set the stage for the negotiation of land claims in the territory. From that came a piece of legislation called the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA). The YESAA was an opportunity for First Nations and other citizens within the territory to be able to comment on and be a part of a mining or development approval process. Up until then, there was no opportunity for that to happen.  

“There were a number of developments that were happening in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s where First Nations people were excluded from any discussion on resource development activities in the territory.” 

The interesting thing about this act or legislation, is that it was truly co-created. The federal government could not have done that in isolation from the First Nations; the First Nations could not have done it in isolation from the federal or territorial governments. The three parties came together and based on the wisdom and the priorities of these entities, that is what came to be. That legislation formally became a part of Canada’s legislation as well as territorial legislation back in 2006, when we had full devolution into the territory. Industry and investors should be interested in that because it is good legislation. 


What supports exist to help international mining companies successfully set up shop in Yukon? 

The Yukon government is really strong on wanting to find different ways to engage in and attract businesses. Similar to other jurisdictions, we have a foreign entrepreneur program where there is a mechanism and clear process for them to become established here. We also have the nominee programs to attract foreign workers. In addition to that, we have some really dynamic, sector-specific councils or chambers. Yukon has the Yukon Chamber of Mines that is an incredibly supportive network for people to be able to come in, understand, and engage with existing resource sector people. We also have the same thing over in the tourism sector.  

“The Yukon government is really strong on wanting to find different ways to engage in and attract businesses.” 

The government works with industry to go out internationally and engage with prospective companies. It is not just people randomly trying to figure out, “I see the dot on the map, but I have no idea who these people are, I do not know the story, why should I go to Yukon, and why would I do that?” If you meet some people from the territory and they demonstrate that they have interest in you and they are committed to maintaining a connection with you, you are probably more likely to come. Once they are here, there is a really good, strong network of people to support them with that. 

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Shelagh Rowles
Executive Director - Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, Yukon University

Bio: Shelagh Rowles is the Executive Director at the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining and Communities at Yukon University. Previously, she was also the Dean of Applied Science and Management. She has extensive experience in developing programs in collaboration with Yukon First Nations, Yukon communities, government, and industry stakeholders. She has sat on many local and national advisory boards related to building capacity in the north.  

 

Organization Profile: The Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining at Yukon University focuses on developing innovative and flexible employment and career training to best suit Yukon’s labour needs. It provides services to industry and training for students, with close access to working mine sites as well as reclamation and mineral exploration areas to give students real-world experience.