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De Beers and the Snap Lake Environmental Monitoring Agency

Supporting community-based oversight bodies to address Aboriginal rights

De Beers and the Snap Lake Environmental Monitoring Agency graphic

The challenge

The Northwest Territories (NWT) province in Canada is one of two jurisdictions in the country where Aboriginal peoples are in the majority, constituting slightly more than 50% of the population. The region’s geographical resources include diamonds, gold, natural gas and petroleum, all of which have attracted extractive companies to the area since the early 1900s.

While the mining and oil and gas industries have brought economic growth and job opportunities to the NWT at various stages, significant challenges have arisen in terms of preserving the land and natural resource rights of the Aboriginal population throughout the course of business activities.

“When we talk about ‘Land’ in the Northwest Territories, it’s with a capital ‘L.’ Land here means more than just actual territory. It’s about wildlife, water, air quality, entire ecosystems, and livelihoods for the people who live on that land. All of this depends on the integrity of the land; and there are deep cultural connections to the natural resources connected to both the land and the environment.”
Alex Power, Yellowknives Dene First Nation

The response 

Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), land-related human rights issues are of particular concern in the context of business impacts on indigenous populations. In this context, three diamond mines in the NWT have taken a distinct approach in understanding and managing risks to surrounding communities when it comes to land and the environment in connection with mining operations. The licensing and registration process for each mine has involved legally binding environmental agreements between the respective diamond company, the federal government, the NWT government, and affected Aboriginal groups in the area.

Each agreement requires the establishment of a community-based, independent environmental monitoring agency (EMA) to study potential and actual environmental impacts, including those that relate to impacts on people, and facilitate activities around the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Aboriginal groups in relation to each mine. Each EMA acts as a public watchdog organization to ensure environmental regulatory compliance by the mining company and oversee inspection processes by government regulators.

The three EMAs in the NWT include: (1) the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency (IEMA), covering Dominion Diamond Ekati Corporation’s Ekati mine; (2) the Environmental Monitoring Advisory Board (EMAB), covering Diavik Diamond Mines’ Diavik mine; and (3) the Snap Lake Environmental Monitoring Agency (SLEMA), covering De Beers Mining Canada’s Snap Lake mine. All three agencies facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogue and engagement across Aboriginal, company and government actors.


“Our approach is to engage early and often with potentially affected communities, going beyond the minimum requirements of the law to capture issues and concerns that aren’t yet fully addressed in legislation. We also share learnings from our experiences with SLEMA across the whole of the organization, integrating a better understanding of these issues across procurement, human resources, senior management and other functions.” 
Alexandra Hood, De Beers Mining Canada


Key aspects of the initiative

As an example of the EMA approach to addressing land-related human rights risks to Aboriginal groups associated with mining activities, De Beers and the work of SLEMA involves the following components and activities to date:

  1. Secretariat with an Executive Director and an Environmental Analyst. Led by the Secretariat, the agency is charged with: “(1) Reviewing and commenting on the design of monitoring and management plans and the results of these activities; (2) Monitoring and encouraging the integration of traditional knowledge of the nearby Aboriginal peoples into the mine’s environmental plans; (3) Acting as an intervener in regulatory processes directly related to environmental matters involving the Snap Lake Project and its cumulative effects; (4) Bringing concerns of the Aboriginal peoples and the general public to De Beers Canada Mining Inc. and the government; (5) Keeping Aboriginal peoples and the public informed about Agency activities and findings; and (6) Writing an Annual Report with recommendations that require the response of De Beers Canada Mining Inc. and/or government.”

    “De Beers has been very proactive in its engagement with SLEMA. Our assessment is that they want to do a good job and have this be a positive case study that they can learn from. They’re quite focused on engagement and want the project to be wrapped up nicely. They place particular importance on the role of SLEMA in bringing traditional knowledge into the picture and incorporating this information in the company’s decision-making processes.

    De Beers and other companies must understand that, if they want to do business in these types of regions, they have to do it in collaboration with the impacted communities. The SLEMA model is a smart approach that should be replicated, synchronized, adequately resourced and shared wherever possible.” 
    Philippe di Pizzo, Executive Director, SLEMA

  2. Agency board comprised of eight representatives from the four signatory Aboriginal groups, including the Tli Cho Government, Lutsel k’e Dene First Nation, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and the North Slave Metis Alliance. The board “strives to involve Aboriginal traditional knowledge and conventional science in its assessment of mining activities and environmental reports submitted by De Beers and government inspectors.”

  3. Technical panel made up of scientific experts who are familiar with the NWT and who have reviewed the mine’s annual reports, wildlife monitoring program, Aquatic Effects Monitoring Program Design Plan, and the Interim Closure and Reclamation Plan.

  4. Traditional Knowledge (TK) panel comprised of Elders from the affected Aboriginal groups that have hunted, trapped and lived in the area of the mine site. The TK panel provides “advice on water and fisheries issues and wildlife and habitat issues.” The group has a particular focus on the mine’s current closure activities and on ensuring that this stage of the project is monitored for the long-term stability of the land once the company leaves.


“It is incredibly important to have an independent oversight body for these types of business projects, where surrounding communities are impacted in numerous ways. It’s really key for Aboriginal groups to have an expert body to go to, because we’re under-resourced, particularly where multiple projects require our consultation and participation. These oversight bodies also carry a lot of weight in terms of credibility as they are directed by multiple groups, maintain full independence and blend scientific and traditional knowledge.” 
Alex Power, Yellowknives Dene First Nation


“Throughout the course of our mining operations, we see ourselves as stewards of the land, and we aim to be open and transparent so that we’re trustworthy in this role. All of our Snap Lake reports have been open to public review and comment and we’ve welcomed community members to visit the mine and see the activities for themselves.
 Our priority is to leave a positive legacy wherever we have operated and with the surrounding communities. In the end, we should avoid focusing on assumed differences in values and instead come from a place that recognizes our shared interests. We also want the water to be clean, the fish to be good to eat, and the land to be left as it is. This is our responsibility and it’s also in the economic interest of the company.”                                                                                                                                               
Alexandra Hood, De Beers Mining Canada
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