NWT First Nation to mine first Canada REE
Last updated 2/4/2020 at 2:09pm
Det'on Cho Nahanni Construction Corp., owned by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, has signed a landmark agreement to run the mining operations at Nechalacho, on pace to be the first rare earth element (REE) mine in Canada.
A memorandum of understanding that lays out the parameters of the mining contract was signed by Det'on Cho Nahanni Construction and Cheetah Resources Pty Ltd., an Australia-based company that is advancing the Nechalacho REE mine project in Northwest Territories, during a ceremony at the Association for Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This contract marks a step forward in our territory's push of indigenous resource leadership," said Northwest Territories Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Katrin Nokleby. "I want to congratulate the Yellowknives' Det'on Cho Corporation for characteristically taking the lead on a big ideas, and commend Cheetah Resources for their commitment to placing indigenous people at this project's core."
Nechalacho is located near Thor Lake, roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Yellowknife, the NWT capital.
According to a resource calculated in December, the Upper zone at Nechalacho hosts 94.7 million metric tons of Australian Joint Ore Reserves Committee- (JORC) compliant resource averaging 1.46 percent total rare earth oxides.
In addition to rare earths, this deposit hosts zirconium, niobium and 0.02 percent tantalum – all of which are considered critical metals.
Under mid-2019 agreement, Cheetah acquired ownership of the near surface resources in the T-Zone and Tardiff Zones at Nechalacho from Canada-based Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. for C$5 million.
Avalon retains ownership of the resources in the deeper Basal zone, which was the subject of a 2013 feasibility study.
In 2018, Avalon initiated an investigation into utilizing ore-sorting technology to develop the near-surface zones as a low cost, pilot-scale operation, a model that has the added benefit of having minimal environmental impacts.
Cheetah, which is a fully owned subsidiary of Vital Metals Ltd., is advancing this plan for small-scale development of rare earth resources enriched in the neodymium and praseodymium, magnet rare earths that are in high demand for clean technology applications such as electric vehicles.
This plan got a major boost in December, when tests showed that an ore sorting machine using x-ray transmission (XRT) technology was able to significantly upgrade ore from Nechalacho by identifying and discarding non-REE bearing rocks.
In the testing, material that averaged 10.5 percent rare earths was upgraded to 36 percent while retaining about 70 percent of the available rare earths.
Given these results, Vital Metals paid C$1.4 million to acquire this ore sorting machine from TOMRA Sorting Inc., which includes delivering and installing the sorter, as well as spare parts.
The ore sorter is slated to arrive in June.
In the meantime, Yellowknife-based Aurora Telecom Services Ltd. will be building an ice-road that will connect Nechalacho to Yellowknife, allowing for the plant and equipment that Det'on Cho Nahanni Construction will need to begin mining this summer.
Vital Metals Managing Director Geoff Atkins said the acquisition of the TOMRA ore sorter and agreement with Det'on Cho Corp. "provide the foundations for enabling Vital Metals to become a producer of rare earths in 2020."
This is good news for Cheetah, Northwest Territories and Canada.
"The near surface mining of rare earth minerals by Cheetah Resources is an important project with territorial and potentially national relevance," Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chief Ernest Betsina said during the signing of the Nechalacho mining agreement. "Today is a good day, we look forward to developing our relationship with Cheetah over the coming months and continuing to be economic leaders for Northwest Territories."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Find out more about Canada's rare earth potential in Canada boasts substantial REE resources published in the Jan. 22, 2020 edition of Metal Tech News.