Mining and the Yukon are often synonymous. The territory has long been the site of countless mining explorations and endeavors. For almost 70 years, the Yukon Chamber of Mines has represented Yukon’s mining industry and the members’ various interests. It grew from 12 members in 1943 to over 400 members in 2012, and includes exploration companies, service supply companies and individuals. While many of society’s members can be found across Canada, most of them are doing business in the Yukon, or have done business in the Yukon in the past.
Michael Kokiw has been executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines for the past year and a half. He takes care of the day-to-day business administration and the lobbying on behalf of the organization. He and his staff also organize all the events and conferences.
Kokiw notes that the Chamber is central to the territory’s ever-growing mining community. An increasingly amount of people who immigrate to the Yukon do so because of mining-related opportunities. The geological features of the Yukon play an important role in the territory’s history and economy.
“The City of Whitehorse was founded on mining and exploration. We have one of the largest historical copper deposits in North America within our municipal boundaries. And the Yukon has a rich history not just with the copper belt, but also with gold and the Klondike gold rush in Dawson,” explains Kokiw.
Yukon has a population of 33, 897, which is roughly the population of a small town in Ontario. But Kokiw says the tiny population of Yukon has its many perks, in terms of business.
“It means everyone knows each other. It’s very close-knit. It means an individual will not only have their jobs, but they will also sit on several boards and do lots of volunteering and wear lots of different hats. There’s incredible integration between social programming, industry objective and government fulfillment of programs,” he says.
There are a number of benefits that come with joining the Yukon Chamber of Mines. In addition to conference discounts, members are in touch with industry news. The Chamber is also able to champion on companies’ behalf on issues they feel are important, to all levels of government. Unlike mining industries in other parts of Canada, Kokiw says the Yukon mining industry maintains strong ties to local communities.
For example, many of the economic benefits and opportunities that come from mining companies flow through First Nations development corporations, helping to trigger economic growth within First Nations communities.
“A lot of our agreements with the First nations are very strong. In other places in Canada, when you do mining, it’s a little bit of an industry on an island by itself whereas here, because of our rich history and how the Yukon is put together, it’s very integrated,” he explains.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) helps mining companies respect the needs of First Nations communities and environmental concerns. YESAB, a neutral assessment board, aims “to protect the environmental and social integrity of the Yukon, while fostering responsible development in the territory that reflects the values of Yukoners and respects the contributions of First Nations.” When a project is put forward that might affect the environmental or socio-economic fabric of the Yukon, it must go through a YESAB assessment. YESAB then puts forward recommendations to the government, which the government accepts, rejects or modifies before carrying out the project. Kokiw says the presence of YESAB in the process has ensured the success of many mining projects.
The Chamber also has a hand in helping to resolve any issues that arise in the territory. Labour shortages have become a common problem throughout the country, especially in Canada’s North. The Yukon Chamber of Mines sits on a number of organizations and groups that are trying to remedy this labour shortage and get more qualified young people out in the field. For example, Yukon College is currently establishing the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining. The program will be centered on mining exploration and field work and aims to introduce more students to the mining industry in order to meet the growing demands for workers in the field.
“The chambers and associations were a big part of devising what would make that a successful program,” says Kokiw.
As recent as four or five years ago, the Yukon had very little exploration, somewhere between 30 to 40 million dollars. Last year, the territory had 320 million dollars in exploration. While this past year hit junior companies pretty hard, the figure is still impressive for the region.
“For the first time in Yukon’s history, we’re looking at the end of the boom/bust cycle. Instead, what we’re looking at is the slow building of industry sustainability. Because of the mines, there’s an increase in services, an increasing focus on infrastructure,” Kokiw explains.
In the growing economy of Canada’s smallest territory, the Yukon Chamber of Mines is starting to play a bigger role in public education.
“We’re helping people understand that the dollars that are floating into the Yukon aren’t necessarily floating into rich people’s pockets. They’re going into our infrastructure, they’re going into our social systems. The government is using this money in order to better the quality of life for Yukoners,” Kokiw says.
As for the future, the Yukon Chamber of Mines will continue to be the voice for the growing and diverse mining community. The key word here being “community”.
“A lot of our role in the next four to five years is people seeing that the Chamber of Mines is a community, it’s a way that stakeholders can engage with industry in order to get higher benefits,” says Kokiw.