In a landmark move, Canada Empowers the Arctic Region’s Mineral Riches by formally transferring control of Nunavut’s vast mineral resources to the Arctic territory, empowering it to manage its rich reserves of gold, diamonds, iron, cobalt, and rare earth metals. This significant decision was cemented on Thursday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok inked a devolution agreement in the territory’s capital, Iqaluit.
This historic agreement, part of the Canada Empowers Arctic Region’s Mineral Riches initiative, allows Nunavut, spanning 810,000 square miles and home to just 40,000 residents, to collect royalties from its natural resources. These funds were previously directed to the federal government. The move is anticipated to stimulate exploration and development in this strategically important region, which is becoming more accessible due to climate change.
Premier Akeeagok hailed the agreement as a milestone: “We can now bring decision-making about our land and waters home. It means that we, the people most invested in our homeland, will manage our natural resources.”
Nunavut’s journey to this point has been unique. Created in 1999, it was the only one of Canada’s three northern territories yet to negotiate a devolution agreement. Discussions on this agreement commenced in October 2014, leading to this significant handover of control.
The region faces considerable challenges, including harsh weather, a lack of infrastructure, high operational costs, and social issues. Moreover, the largely unskilled and undereducated Inuit aboriginal workforce presents another hurdle in this transition.
Nunavut is already seeing mining activity, with companies like Agnico-Eagle Mines operating the territory’s sole active gold mine. The region’s mineral wealth, especially those critical for battery production, aligns with Canada’s commitment to attracting electric vehicle supply chain companies as part of the global effort to reduce carbon emissions.
However, mining operations in Nunavut are complex. Due to potential ecological impacts, environmental concerns remain a priority, as demonstrated by Ottawa’s 2022 decision to reject Baffinland Iron Mine Corp’s proposal to double production at its Mary River iron ore mine. Similarly 2020, Canada turned down Shandong Gold Mining’s bid for a local gold producer amid apprehensions about a Chinese state-owned entity operating in the Arctic.
This devolution agreement marks a new era for Nunavut, offering the territory a chance to shape its economic future while navigating the environmental and social challenges inherent in such a vast and fragile region.