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Business ᐊᐱᒥᐱᐦᑖᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐋᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Ensuring that Cree benefit from new gold mines

BY Patrick Quinn Oct 9, 2020

What remains after the gold rush? As mining activity has exploded in Eeyou Istchee over the past few decades, the Cree Nation is adamant that emerging projects ensure appropriate sustainability, transparency and collaboration in their operations.

The latest prospecting campaign was recently launched by Goldstar Minerals near Lake Nemenjiche, located 60 kilometres south of Chibougamau within the Ouje-Bougoumou trapline. It is also 15 km east of the Nelligan Project, which was named “Discovery of the Year” last fall by the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association for a significant initial gold estimate totalling 3.2 million ounces. 

“The regional understanding of mineralization controls has been greatly advanced with the Nelligan discovery,” stated Goldstar CEO David Crevier in a press release. “This new understanding will be applied in our efforts on the Nemenjiche project.”

The company’s initial five-week campaign will target about six square kilometres for detailed mapping and sampling of outcrops while its exploration team prepares for prospecting and airborne surveys of both its Nemenjiche and Anctil claim areas. 

Although there is no guarantee Goldstar will succeed, this geological region between Abitibi and Chibougamau is a greenstone belt well known for its deposits gold, silver and copper. Eeyou Istchee has become one of the world’s best mineral exploration grounds in recent years with over 400 active mining projects. 

“We have a lot of companies like Goldstar starting projects,” confirmed Youcef Larbi, chief geologist for the Cree Mineral Exploration Board (CMEB). “Goldstar are in the area where we know there is huge potential. We’ll be happy for them to find something if they respect the activity in Eeyou Istchee like any company.”

Communication is the foundation of this respect, which Larbi feels has been lacking from Goldstar so far, although he added it’s too early to judge. Sometimes companies deal directly with the community and occasionally they undertake only lightweight sampling and leave after six months. 

“I wish we had better communication with Goldstar, but I don’t stress myself in the beginning,” Larbi told the Nation. “If they bring machinery to the trapline, they have no choice. Then they have to come to us – we usually bring them together with the tallyman and the Chief.”

The CMEB was created in 2002 to facilitate information exchange between tallymen and mining companies and to ensure the Cree Nation receives maximum benefit from all sustainable development in Eeyou Istchee. It worked closely with the CNG to develop the Cree Nation Mining Policy and has been striving to clarify essential protocols for any company seeking to initiate activity in the region. 

“Mining companies need to understand we know it better and have more control over what happens here,” said Larbi. “We’ve been working a long time to make them understand they can go nowhere without social acceptability. As soon as the company takes the claim, they should know where to go.”

While companies can currently access mining claims through the Quebec government’s website, Larbi asserts that to avoid unnecessary confusion they should be corresponding with the CMEB for guidance and to ensure that information is properly delivered. The CMEB collaborates with mining coordinators and the Cree Trappers’ Association to share information within communities.

Emails should also be sent to the tallyman, Chief and Deputy Chief, with details about the claim location, work plan and period, numbers of various personnel involved, and how the camp will be accessed. From interested companies, Crees expect job offers, invitations to invest and opportunities to provide services and infrastructure. 

“It’s important for companies to understand we have people to provide when they come to Eeyou Istchee,” Larbi explained. “One of the reasons we wanted to start communication is so they understand they can’t come here and not hire people from the area. I’m not saying everybody but at least some of our own.”

As mining activity has intensified in Eeyou Istchee, so too has local knowledge about geology. In collaboration with Cree Human Resources Development, the CMEB provides school presentations, participates in community prospecting training and has developed an exploration training program. 

The expected knowledge and technology transfer from companies working in the region is an important part of this capacity building and for establishing mutually respectful relationships. It’s a significant departure from the often exploitative, early encounters with the mining industry.  

Ouje-Bougoumou has a long history of mining in its territory, which forced the community to relocate several times until many years of negotiations finally led to the construction of the current village 30 years ago. Contamination from mine and exploration sites abandoned decades ago continues to be a community concern.

When gold was discovered at Éléonore near Wemindji in 2004, it signalled not only the beginning of a new staking rush but also a new era of collaborative relationships. The CMEB has gone from very few companies initiating communication at that time to about 85% this year. 

Despite the current business difficulties faced by Stornoway Diamonds and Nemaska Lithium, the huge mineral deposits that made those companies in the first place aren’t going anywhere. Numerous companies are now on the land, although the Covid pandemic has resulted in less exploration work than usual and shifted the season a little later this year.

A growing number of exploration enterprises, projects and prospectors are Cree, which the CMEB help promote throughout their various initiatives. While mining represents exciting economic potential for the Cree Nation, respect for the land is always at the heart of any long-term strategy.

“We have so many projects, but we wouldn’t have a thousand mines,” Larbi asserted. “Right now, we have three – for activity like that there is a limit. We still have potential for a couple of mines in the future, but they won’t be all together at the same time. We can’t just take everything and not leave anything for our kids.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.