As more voices join the movement to stop a niobium mining project on Kanehsatake territory, the pressure to put an end to the project is mounting amidst a great deal of suspicion and confusion.
On June 30 about 40 protestors congregated in front of the Best Western Ville-Marie Hotel as Niocan shareholders met about the project within the hotel.
Among them was Ellen Gabriel, former President of Quebec Native Women Inc. and onetime chief negotiator and spokesperson for the Mohawk people of the Kanehsatake during the 1990 Oka Crisis.
Thankfully, Gabriel and the Mohawks aren’t alone in fighting this project. A niobium mine would significantly damage the aquifer that provides well water for not just the majority of Kanehsatake residents but also for residents of the surrounding communities, including many farms.
According to Gabriel, while the Quebec government was ready to give the project a go-ahead initially when the company had applied a decade ago, the environmental assessment that it submitted to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) has been rejected. She credits this to the petition of 5600 names that was presented in the National Assembly this past spring.
“The other major issue is the fact that we have stated our objections to this project and the government is obliged to respect our inherent rights…. Whether they do or not, I don’t know but they are legally obliged to do that,” said Gabriel.
While niobium mining in itself is actually rather innocuous when it comes to environmental damage, the problem with this project is that Niocan would have to dig through several layers of uranium-laden rock to get to the niobium. In the process of uncovering the niobium, not only would the water being used for this project be contaminated with carcinogenic uranium but a significant portion of radon gas would also be released to the detriment of human health.
Though the Niocan project is stalled for the time being, Gabriel said another company, Augyva Mining Resources Inc, is hard at work to see this project through under its own supervision, making several attempts to buy controlling shares of Niocan and also conducting a separate study on the old Saint Lawrence Columbium mine nearby.
While Gabriel said the administration for the municipality of Oka told her that Augyva is looking to see if the area can be turned into a park, at the same time they are also looking to see if there could be any kind of economic spinoffs from the old mine, which has been defunct for over 35 years now. This is what strikes her as suspicious. Though the company has claimed that this is not a “mining project” per se as they are not dynamiting or digging, an environmental lawyer has told the Mohawks otherwise. If they are extracting minerals – even if it is just on the surface – it is still considered a mining project.
Gabriel said there has been talk that if Augyva gets controlling shares of the project, the company could use the Saint Lawrence Columbium Mine as a dumpsite for the niobium mine tailings.
Regardless as to who is running the project, the fact that the project would be so devastating to the environment is what has those in the region so adamant to have the project stopped. Particularly as, according to Gabriel, Niocan has not been honest about exactly how much water the project would require on a daily basis.
“A hydrologist who looked at the project said Niocan had estimated that it would use two million gallons of water per day but the independent hydrologist said it would be much more like eight million gallons of water per day,” said Gabriel.
In turn the company would set up a water treatment system for the residents but Gabriel said she was wary of the idea since the cost for that many people would be astronomical and that is not to mention the many farms in the area that are also reliant on the wells.
Many of the farmers in the outer-lying communities are also concerned as in the last few years they have been developing agro-tourism in the area. However, if the mining project goes ahead, they could be left with few legs to stand on when it comes to promoting organic products.
While Mohawks from Kanehsatake made their battle cries in front of the hotel, many of those from communities like nearby St-Joseph and Pointe-Calumet talked about protecting their homes and businesses. Gabriel said, together the two groups were a much stronger front since the government is always so quick to provoke the Mohawks and then discredit them as violent and unreasonable.
“If it is not going to benefit anyone in any way, shape or form and threatens our health then we have to say no. And, we have the right to do that as the titleholders of this land,” said Gabriel.