MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian Indigenous Peoples oppose mining expansion

Published by MAC on 2011-05-17
Source: Statement, Reuters, Dominion, The Nation (2011-05-11)

The government of Quebec has launched a multi-billion dollar mineral exploitation plan which would cover an area virtually the size of South Africa.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has provoked opposition and alarm among  First Nations' communities  who lay claim to much of the territory.

Plan Nord: "Incomplete process for First Nations" - Chief Ghislain Picard

Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador release

9 May 2011

WENDAKE, QC - The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), Ghislain Picard, will not participate in the unveiling of the "Plan Nord", today in Lévis. "I refuse to participate in a process which does not yet adequately meet the expectations of all concerned First Nations," he said.

Chief Picard particularly deplores the lack of genuine consultation with some First Nations, which are simply left aside in this process which will nevertheless have major impacts on their rights. "How can the Government launch the Plan Nord without having tried to obtain the consent of all First Nations involved? This process is incomplete and very disappointing", he says.

The AFNQL particularly wishes to recall that under the Canadian Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions, the Government of Quebec has an obligation to consult and accommodate all First Nations affected by the Plan Nord. It must also respect the obligations of the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples which Canada has recently endorsed.

In particular, article 32 of the Declaration stipulates that " States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources." "In other words, we do not consult First Nations as we consult a Chamber of commerce or a municipality", states Ghislain Picard.

Breach of the commitments

Chief Picard recalled that Jean Charest has still not fulfilled his commitments taken in his 2003 election for the consideration of the land rights of non-Treaty First Nations. "In 2003, when signing the mutual political agreement, Jean Charest promised to discuss the issues affecting the territory and the development of resources.

In 2006, at the First Nations socioeconomic Forum, he reiterated his commitment to establish relations respectful of our territorial rights. However, the Premier never upheld his promises and continues to deny our ancestral rights. How can we believe him today, when he again promises to take into account First Nations in the implementation of the Plan Nord? ", questions Ghislain Picard.

"The Government of Quebec has not only the obligation to take into account the rights of all First Nations affected by the Plan Nord, but it also has the responsibility to engage in true dialogue with all First Nations in Quebec, including subjects like wealth-sharing, co-management and royalties. I am still waiting for a phone call from Jean Charest," concluded Chief Picard.

About the AFNQL

The AFNQL is the regional organization regrouping the 43 Chiefs of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. For information: www.apnql-afnql.com.

For further information:

Éric Cardinal
Communications adviser
Cellular: 514 258-2315


Quebec launches big mining plan

By Julie Gordon

Reuters

10 May 2011

TORONTO - The Canadian province of Quebec plans to develop its huge frozen northern reaches into a powerhouse of mining and renewable energy, targeting C$80 billion ($83 billion) of private and public investment.

Quebec's 25-year "Plan Nord," launched on Monday, envisages funding for infrastructure, mines and the development of renewable energy, taking advantage of an improving investment climate as the earth warms and polar ice melts.

Quebec says the region has abundant deposits of nickel, cobalt, platinum group metals, zinc, iron ore, ilmenite, gold, lithium, vanadium and rare-earth metals.

"Northern Quebec has incomparable mining potential," Natural Resources Minister Serge Simard said in a release.

"The opening up of vast, previously unexplored territories is paving the way for unprecedented economic growth."

Plan Nord covers an area of 465,000 square miles (1.2 million square km), roughly the size of the whole of South Africa. The sparsely populated region has 11 mining projects in development now and over C$8 billion in mining investment.

"(Plan Nord) will create or consolidate 20,000 jobs a year, on average, and generate C$14 billion in revenue for the government and Quebec society," said Premier Jean Charest.

Quebec aims to attract C$47 billion in private and public investment for renewable energy and C$33 billion for mining and infrastructure. It will amend its mining regulations to ensure the government gets "fair economic return" from its resources in the largely untouched region.

The province, which topped a Fraser Institute survey of best mining districts from 2007 to 2009, slipped to third after it raised mining taxes unexpectedly last spring and is now in fourth place on uncertainty over mining legislation.

"My own sense is that Quebec will remain sensible and that if there are (mining tax) increases they won't be otherwordly," said Fred McMahon, Vice President of International Research for the right leaning think-tank. "But there is that danger in the current atmosphere."

Gold producers Goldcorp and Agnico-Eagle have projects in the province, while steel giant ArcelorMittal operates iron ore mines in Northeastern Quebec.

The government conceded that "the vastness of the northern territory poses a daunting challenge from the standpoint of access and transportation and communications infrastructure."

The region is also already home to more than 75 percent of Quebec's hydroelectric power, with government-owned Hydro-Quebec alone producing 34,490 MW a year. Plan Nord envisages an additional 3,500 MW of additional "green" power, primarily through hydroelectric dams, with a small amount being generated through wind turbines and underwater generators.

Quebec also predicted environmental and social benefits, with 50 percent of the territory set aside for nonindustrial purposes, including new provincial parks and environmentally protected areas.

The government will spend C$382 million over five years on housing, health and education for local communities. ($1=$0.96 Canadian) (Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman)


Kanesatake and a Canadian mine

Controversial niobium mine is receiving little public attention

By Stefan Christoff

Dominion

11 May 2011

MONTREAL - Only minutes up the road from the focal point of the 1990 Oka Crisis, Niocan Inc. plans to set up an underground mine for the extraction of niobium, a rare element used in high-grade steel production.

Despite the past history of tensions and widespread opposition to the current proposal within the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, the proposed mining project has remained under the radar: even as the company continues to lobby government officials and push forward with the project, little media or mainstream political focus has been paid to the issue. Residents of Kanesatake, though, are not letting their guard down in the face of the mining project.

"A very short-sighted vision drives this mining project that will impact the land and environment for future generations, but the government and Niocan only see dollar signs," says Ellen Gabriel, a celebrated activist from Kanesatake. "Our community has been resisting for over 300 years and our rights are not recognized, particularly our rights to the land, but we have every right to defend this land."

As the site of the Oka Crisis, Kanesatake has already served to ignite a generation of protest and action within Indigenous communities. If the Quebec government grants permission to open the mine against the will of Kanesatake, the potential political implications are serious.

"Quebec's government holds no jurisdiction to grant mining permits on traditional Mohawk lands," Sohenrise Paul Nicholas of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake told The Dominion. "We are opposed to the mine and are willing to defend the land...A mine is not [an] appropriate project for our traditional lands."

Voices opposing the project highlight the long-term environmental impacts of underground mining, a process that will use large amounts of water from local aquifers and affect an estimated 25 square kilometres of fertile agricultural lands.

"One immediate concern is environmental," says Nicholas. "A major mine operating in a mixed residential and agricultural area is not acceptable. Beyond permanently altering the natural landscape, the mining process will disturb high concentrations of radioactive elements within the land."

Radium and polonium-both radioactive-have been measured in elevated concentrations within the underground ore body that Niocan Inc. is proposing to mine, a process that may lead to large volumes of radioactive waste.

Many Mohawks also oppose the mine on the basis of their collective water rights.

"A mine like this will be detrimental to our water table and our health in general," says Nicholas, in an urgent tone. "About 90 per cent of our homes in Kanesatake use well water every day, and once those aquifers are disturbed for mining use there is no guarantee that our water will be safe anymore."

Over the past decade Niocan Inc., based in downtown Montreal, has been lobbying to set up the controversial project amidst agricultural lands just outside of Montreal. Highly unpopular in both Kanesatake and surrounding Quebec communities like Oka, the contested mining project is uniting local farmers and Mohawks in an anti-mining struggle.

"Local farmers living close to where the mine would be situated are totally opposed and are expressing outrage that this mine would position itself right in the middle of the farming area," Kanesatake resident Walter David told The Dominion in an interview at his Moccasin-Jo coffee and tea shop in Kanesatake. David says he has seen a solidarity develop over the last decade through joint opposition to the Niocan mine. "Agricultural workers are growing many fruits and vegetables on these lands just beside Montreal. Do we want toxic chemicals entering our food and water supply?

"Today we are supporting the farmers and the farmers are supporting us."

Points of opposition to the mine put forward by Mohawk activists in Kanesatake and community residents in Oka are similar, even if disagreement over fundamental land rights in the area exist. It is a fascinating political solidarity, born from opposition to corporate mining, in an area historically shaped by territorial conflicts.

Recently, Quebecois community activists collected thousands of signatures for a petition they delivered to Quebec's National Assembly. Arguing that "there is a blatant conflict in using land in the Oka area for both agricultural purposes and the establishment of a niobium mine," the petition calls on the Quebec government to "protect the important agricultural, residential, recreational and environmental areas in the Oka region against any current or future mining development project in the area."

Representatives for Niocan continue to lobby to mine niobium, a highly lucrative element actively extracted from mines only in Canada and Brazil and used for aerospace, military and industrial machinery. Any new mine could result in revenue to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year. The immediate economic gains for a company seeking to extract the element from Indigenous lands are clear.

A final decision on whether to grant permission to Niocan Inc. for the mine is forthcoming from Quebec's Environment Ministry, although the decade-long negotiations have lead to two separate reports from Quebec's Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE).

On water, a 2005 BAPE report concluded that the "ground water pumping required for operating the mine would lead to lowering of water levels in the deep aquifer...it could also lower the ground water table and the level of certain wetlands," impacting "agricultural water supply." Pollution stemming from the mine "could trigger contamination of ground water," it said.

Despite these findings, progress toward the establishment of the mine continues, as local residents work to raise awareness and struggle against the project.

"We have had conversations; it is an issue that we will deal with," Hubert Marleau, interim Chairman of the Board and CEO of Niocan, said of land disputes involving the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

"In Canadian history there have been many cases where things were not so easy," said Marleau. "In the end things worked out and people were happy."

But not everyone agrees with Marleau's rosy assessment.

"Well, this is a selective view of Canadian history," says Clifton Nicholas, a community activist and videographer from Kanesatake. "Throughout all of Canada's history we were never given a fair shake."

The debate about Niocan's niobium mine points to a larger context of simmering land conflict across Canada. In recent years, Indigenous people from coast to coast have taken to the front lines to oppose industrial development on traditional territories. These areas, like the one where the proposed Niocan mine will be situated, are often officially classified by Canadian or provincial authorities as crown lands open for private development, even though they have been long held by local Indigenous communities and are sometimes subject to ongoing land claims, legal challenges or disputes.

Community activists and traditional leaders opposing development on "disputed" land are facing increasing state repression, including the arrest of six Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) elders in Northern Ontario, police repression of community leaders of the Algonquin of Barriere Lake in northern Quebec, and the ongoing fight by the Sinixt Nation against logging on traditional lands in BC.

The future of Niocan's pending mining operation in Kanesatake remains unclear; however, if recent history and the historic 1990 land-rights standoff are any indicators, Niocan is set to face fierce, community-led resistance if the project moves forward.

"No means no and Niocan Inc. needs to understand this," says Nichloas. "Nothing the company says will change our position; we do not want our traditional lands to face [an environmentally destructive] mining project that goes against our wishes."

For more information on Niocan & Kanesatake visit Mining Watch Canada's resource page http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/home/country/canada/quebec/kanesatake-niocan.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer, community activist and musician who contributes to The Dominion. Stefan is at http://www.twitter.com/spirodon.


Uranium battle rages on: The community of Mistissini mounts its battle for a moratorium on uranium mining

By Amy German

The Nation

6 May 2011

Ever since the November hearings in Mistissini and Chibougamau over whether or not Strateco Inc. will get the approval from the federal and provincial boards required to pursue their uranium mining exploration project, both sides have been awaiting a verdict with bated breath.

Last November 23 the final hearing over Strateco's Matoush Project to drill deep into the Otish Mountains on Category 3 land was held in Mistissini. The company is seeking approval to drill a 5x5 metre hole that would run 300 metres down into the Otish Mountains for uranium exploration based on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project that had been submitted for review in early 2010.

During the hearing many community members spoke out against the project as did Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio, various environmental activist groups and a Canadian mining monitoring group.

While community members expressed their deep fears about potential contamination to the Cree traditional traplines and the potential for lingering effects on the environment, the major criticism of the project was that the EIS lacked sufficient data.

"The EIA submitted by Strateco has raised many concerns. Specifically, that baseline data has not been collected thoroughly and does not fully reflect the abundance of wildlife in the area. There are several independent reports that substantiate this claim. The view is, if Strateco could not even take enough care in the preparation of this assessment, will they make the effort when it comes time to implement the measures needed to safeguard the water, plants and animals in and around the Matoush site," said Shecapio in his statement.

The Grand Council of the Crees also threw their support behind Shecapio via a press release indicating that the GCC would stand behind Shecapio's decision.

While there is still no ruling on the November 23 hearing held in Mistissini and the subsequent hearing held in Chibougamau, Strateco CEO and President Guy Hébert has continued to aggressively vie for his project.

The Nation reported earlier this year that in January the company held events in London, England and Paris, France to entice new shareholders.

The invitation for the London events on January 25 and 26 stated, "Strateco announced that it has received strong support from all the parties involved in the public hearings held in Quebec in this matter."

Trying to further its cause with the COMEX /COFEX boards, the Nation recently obtained a letter that Hébert sent January 17 in which he clearly attempts to discredit the opinions expressed in Mistissini in November.

He goes as far to say Mistissini's claim that residents were not sufficiently informed about the project was untrue because the company had met with community members on over 200 occasions through various means.

"We used various strategies (information pages in newspapers, door-to-door visits, information pamphlets, information sessions, etc...) to explain, in lay terms, uranium exploration and mining, which we concede is a complex issue. We are therefore extremely surprised that none of our initiatives was mentioned, or given any consideration, by the authors of the memorandum of the Cree Nation of Mistissini," said Hébert in the letter.

In his letter, Hébert also stated that the August 2010 election for a new Chief leading to a transition of power from then Chief John Longchap to Chief Shecapio changed the playing field to the company's determent. "Meetings were held on several occasions with the former band council and the former Chief of Mistissini. The cooperation established and discussions held led us to believe that our efforts and initiatives were not only being considered, but were also on the right track."

Chief Shecapio, both at the hearing and many times since then, has spoken passionately about the Cree responsibility to act as stewards to the land and protect it for the many generations of Crees yet to come. His argument against the project has been that it is not in line with this essential Cree value.

Hébert responded to this, arguing that the project was completely in line with the values of the Cree. "We understand that in speaking of traditional principles and knowledge, they are mainly referring to the close relationship they have with their environment. However, we showed through our environmental impact assessment that the underground exploration program would be in line with their principles."

At this point Hébert lists a series of studies conducted by Strateco that were commented on by experts from the Quebec Department of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks (MDDEP), the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). While Hébert said the studies do meet the standards of these boards and governmental bodies, he complained that the presentations made at the hearing were based only on the "initial data provided" and ignored the "the tremendous work done by Strateco and its consultants to scrutinize and supplement certain pre-identified information and thus meet the extremely strict criteria of the competent authorities."

In the following two excerpts, Hébert goes on to tell the boards how his company has been treated unfairly by the presentations made at the hearing. It should be noted that Strateco did have the opportunity to present all of the information they so desired at the May information session in 2010.

During the hearing in November, not only did the Chief and Council have their own opportunity to present their information as did other groups that had applied for a subsidy to review the EIS independently, such as Ramsey Hart from MiningWatch Canada and Gordon Edwards from the Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. What they presented concerned the data that Strateco had provided them with. They were both heavily critical of the project.

Many local coalitions and Elders also spoke about their fears and connection to a land they hold so dear.

And, at no point did Strateco contact the Nation requesting another interview to discuss its new data.

"Since 2007, Strateco has invested a great deal of energy, time and money in publicizing its project, as well as the issues related to uranium. The public pre-consultations in December 2008 identified the main concerns of the residents of Mistissini and of the Jamésie area. Information sessions, held in May 2010, and public hearings, held in

November 2010, should normally have allowed the public to receive clear answers to their concerns. The format chosen for these public sessions, however, failed to provide answers to these concerns; instead it gave a platform to individuals and groups who are known for their systematic opposition to mining projects or who are antinuclear.

Unfortunately, the experts invited by COMEX, COFEX and Strateco did not have the opportunity to answer questions from the public or respond to the many erroneous and outdated statements made, which were mostly unrelated to the Matoush project.

Strateco considers that it was penalized by the format selected. It should be noted that this format was modified for the public hearings in Chibougamau, which at least helped to correct some unsubstantiated statements. There was no opportunity for the experts to correct most of the inaccurate statements, which were considered truthful and credible

by the public, mainly in Mistissini."

"Refusing to support the project would not only cause major financial harm to Strateco employees, Mistissini and Jamésie suppliers and Strateco shareholders, but would amount to recognizing that, in Quebec, fear and misinformation take precedence over the expertise of the competent authorities. We hope that you will respond favourably to our request."

Mounting their own battle against the project, the Cree of Mistissini took their battle over uranium mining to a Council Board meeting March 23.

During the meeting Shecapio said the following: "Our worry is that uranium exploration and mining goes against the stewardship principles of our traditional teachings.

"We are concerned about the close proximity of uranium deposits to the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park. Given the potential for tourism, we have worries that a park and uranium project can co-exist in harmony.

"We also have concerns with the statement in two recent environmental impact assessments that several naturally occurring contaminants are present in the Otish Mountain drainage basin, often exceeding national maximum allowable limits. These assessment documents then go on to state that the addition of the same contaminants to the watercourse would have a negligible effect on the local environment.

"We are saying that more study needs to conducted by the Cree Nation to accurately measure what is present in the water now, to be able to fully understand what impacts uranium mining will have on our watershed," said Shecapio.

During that same Council Board meeting a resolution was passed calling for a moratorium.

The resolution read: "That the Board/Council of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou lslchee)/Cree Regional Authority hereby formally support the implementation of a moratorium and uranium mining on the traditional lands of the Cree Nation of Mistissini, to allow for greater information to the members of the Cree Nation of Mistissini on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of advanced uranium exploration and uranium mining."

Following that resolution, the GCC/CRA has since petitioned the government to support the moratorium, which is required for the moratorium to be in effect on Category 3 land.

During the speech, Shecapio spoke about a new partnership that the Band Council was forming with the University of Saskatchewan to implement a regional water-monitoring program to oversee water quality on traditional territory in advance of future resource development activity.

The Nation recently asked Shecapio to elaborate how this would work and what this would mean in relation to Strateco.

"Mistissini and the CRA are working closely with Professor Monique Dubé to develop a program that utilizes traditional knowledge and western science to gain a clearer understanding of the Otish Mountain drainage basin. This would include accurately measuring not only water quantity and quality, but also the abundance and seasonal variations of wildlife.

"We are in the preliminary stages of developing this pilot project that will serve as a model for implementation across Eeyou Istchee."

The plan with this would be to have a monitoring system in place in any area where natural resource development is taking place as a safeguard for the Cree.

As for the moratorium, Shecapio explained that what the community wants is not a flat-out indefinite ban.

"The Cree Nation of Mistissini would like to make it clear that we are simply calling for a moratorium or a temporary halt to uranium development in this territory to give us more time to understand the watershed. We are not seeking a ban.

"The provincial government holds the power implement a moratorium on Cree traditional territories in Quebec," said Shecapio.

As for Strateco's current tactics in terms of raising funds for its project while telling the world that the project is supported by all of the local bodies, as they did in London, Shecapio responded:

"Our focus is on the COFEX and COMEX final reports. All I can reiterate is the point we made to the panels at the November 23 hearing - that Strateco didn't do what it should have to build trust with the community. Their actions since that time just confirm this."

With any hope a ruling will be in soon as will a response from the government on whether a moratorium would be permissible.

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