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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Strategies are needed

BY Will Nicholls Jan 27, 2023

Critical minerals and materials are a concern for all of us on this planet as many are necessary for meeting both climate change objectives and defense needs. Especially rare-earth elements, like lithium and cobalt, which are used in everything from computers to all our household appliances that make our lives so much easier. Clean energy batteries, electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines cannot exist without them these days.

With 196 countries signing the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, they are obligated to reduce greenhouse gases and transition away from hydrocarbons (gas, oil, coal) to renewable energy sources in an effort to stabilize and lower global warming trends.

But the costs of creating them are high. It means a sixfold increase in getting more nickel, copper, lithium and cobalt. And that’s not counting rare earths. The International Energy Agency reported that a “typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car,” adding that a wind power plant needs nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant. 

Not only is green energy costing an arm and a leg but the same applies to other uses we all take for granted like cellphones, ear buds, internet connections, TVs and the list goes on. The commercial market is dependent upon them and so is the defense capabilities.

In 1950, the United States created the Defense Production Act (DPA). If you don’t think this affects you, think again. There is a silent economic war going on with China and Russia over mineral and rare-earth resources. At one point China controlled supply of 95% of the rare earths; today, it’s the still high amount of 60%. Russia owns a high percentage of critical minerals and rare earths and that only increased when they annexed Crimea. It wasn’t just about protecting ethnic Russians living there. Their recent invasion of Ukraine has given Russia even more mineral wealth and a huge share of Ukraine’s lithium deposits.

The DPA by the way allows Canadian mining and exploration companies to get grants from them. Canada, itself, said it’s earmarking $3.8 billion over eight years to develop a critical minerals industry. Canada says they will not reduce regulatory oversight, however. But in a December speech to AFN chiefs filled with all the nice words politicians thrive on, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Your respect and stewardship of the earth is essential for our collective work to protect the environment, fight climate change…” 

So, what really does this mean for a First Nations or Indigenous community? Well, it seems that Canada could become the leading source of rare earths and metals for the western world. The problem is that most of the sources are in northern Canada in what they call sparsely populated areas, meaning the homes and territories of First Nations and Inuit. 

With grants from both Canada and the US, there will be even more exploration and exploitation of those traditional territories.

While Canada and the US have their strategies, it is obvious that Indigenous peoples must come up with their own because the rush is on.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.