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Inuit mine a new partner

Exploration deal affects land in Nunavut

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 26/02) - The mining business could see a big new player -- Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (NTI) -- and Strongbow Resources has made an exploration deal in diamond country.

"We have a lot of exploration agreements," said NTI's Wayne Johnson. "It is the first one we have done with the right to have an interest in the project."

NTI has 64 exploration agreements on the go right now but the latest, with Strongbow, is the biggest and the most comprehensive. It will give NTI an option for ownership of a mine if one ever became a reality on the properties.

The deal affects 29 different parcels of land making up 566,000 hectares of Inuit-owned land in Nunavut. The land spreads from Kugluktuk down to Contwoyto Lake, over to Bathurst Inlet and on up to Hope Bay. The Kitikmeot Inuit Association owns it but the mineral rights are owned by NTI.

Strongbow's president is Gren Thomas, a founding figure in the Diavik diamond mine.

NTI lands don't operate under a staking system like many other frontier land projects. NTI holds an application process about six times a year and enters into agreements at its discretion. NTI is an extension of the Nunavut Land Claim agreement. It manages the claim agreement's business development.

Last fall, NTI could see diamond-hunting activity was heating up, so it decided to put all exploration applications on hold. Then in May, NTI advertised a request for offers.

"We got quite a few offers in response to that," said Johnson, adding that out of three possible candidates, Strongbow is the first deal to be settled.

Strongbow will have to pay fees on signing as well as a commitment to continue work on exploration projects every year.

"They will pay us the first year's fees which in this case are about $425,000 and they will also commit to carry out a work program which costs about $1.3 million to $1.5 million," said Johnson.

NTI can also take additional royalties from anything mined -- it gets a standard 12 per cent now -- or it can get involved in the mining business for a 20 per cent interest.

But the contract hasn't been completely settled and signed yet.

And on their side, they are subject to regulatory approval and also to raising the money," said Johnson, referring to work Strongbow has to do.

The NTI-Strongbow deal coincides closely with the Coronation diamond rush. Nearly a year ago the Kitikmeot was the site of one of the largest staking rushes on record.