The Northwest Territories resource sector has a new kid in town.
Nechalacho Rare Earths Mine, located around 100 kilometers east of Yellowknife on Thor Lake is gearing up to enter production this spring.
According to Cheetah Resources Corp., operators of the demonstration project and owners of deposits near the surface, Nechalacho will be the first Canadian producer of rare earth elements and the first project in the country where an Indigenous group is contracted for extracting minerals in its own territory.
It’s a pleasant surprise for Kyle Bayha, a heavy equipment operator who has worked in mines across the Northwest Territories.
“It means lots everywhere else I’ve ever worked I’ve always been the minority. I’ve always been either the only one or a few but round here it’s been pretty much 80 percent I guess. 80 per-cent native so it’s good I like it,” he said.
Bayha, hails from from Délı̨nę N.W.T. and is employed with Det’on Cho Nahanni Construction Corporation, the economic entity for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation who are running operations for the mine.
“There’s a lot of people back home who don’t have tickets, don’t have training, they don’t have work. I was lucky to get out and get my ticket start working and do jobs like this,” he said.
David Connelly, vice president of corporate affairs and strategy for Cheetah Resources Corp., told media the demonstration phase of the project is considered small with about 30 seasonal jobs this summer.
“We expect the physical footprint will be less than 10 per cent less than the average diamond mine. While we have a number of firsts, we want to make it clear Nechalacho will in no way replace the contribution of the diamond mines in the N.W.T.’s economy,” Connelly said.
Nevertheless, 600,000 tonnes of ore-bearing rock is expected to be extracted this summer, with 100,000 containing the valuable minerals used to power things such as vehicles, wind turbines and cell phone cameras.
While smaller in scale, Clarence Pyke, Nechalacho mine project manager said the secret is in the sorting.
“No chemicals, it’s actuated by air. It had fiber optics x-ray’s that’s going to aluminate similar to a diamond and recognizes that product that we need and the product that we don’t need and it’s going to separate it through the belt feed,” Pyke said.
Free from chemicals means the cleanup for phase one of the mine will only involve waste rock.
A reclamation plan void of tailings ponds gives Bayha peace of mind.
“I noticed when I was down in Fort Mac last year, all the trees were drying up. All the impacts down there I’ve seen. Not many animals, grounds all drying up turning into sand. With no tailings, this process we have here, I’m pretty happy to be environmentally friendly,” Bayha said.
The product will travel by barge to Hay River over the summer. After that, it will head to Saskatoon to be handled by the Saskatchewan Research Council and Cheetah Resources will refine the material before it is shipped to Norway for fine separation of rare earth elements and sale.
“We are also demonstrating to the global customer base china that the N.W.T. and Cheetah’s mixed rare earth and precipitated products can meet their stringent product specifications,” Connelly said.
Chettah Resources told media the project is expected to hit the second phase of development by 2024 and Visuals of fuel
If all goes well – Cheetah hopes to hit the second phase and expand extraction of goods with a larger pit by 2024.