Waswanipi residents are set to benefit from job creation, skills training and millions in investments following the signing of a socio-economic participation agreement (SEPA) with Metanor Resources, which is redeveloping the nearby Bachelor Lake gold mine.
Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, Waswanipi Chief Paul Gull, Metanor President Serge Roy and Metanor Vice-President Pascal Hamelin signed the agreement at a press conference in Montreal September 27.
While many details are still to be ironed out, the agreement foresees large payments to a community “Legacy for Youth” fund. Under the formula, amounts equal to 1% of capital expenditures and 3.5% of profits after investments are recouped will be returned to the community over the life of the mine. A bipartite harmonization committee equally composed of community and company representatives will set employment targets as human-resource needs are identified. Opportunities to bid on contracts at the mine will also be provided to Cree-owned companies.
The agreement follows an investment – the amount undisclosed – by the Cree Mineral Exploration Board in Metanor stock in order to help finance the development of the mine.
“The agreement required respect and understanding for each party’s vision,” said Coon Come. “I believe the agreement we are signing today provides tangible benefits. It will help us build a life for our youth and make Eeyou Istchee a land of opportunity for them.”
Fifteen Waswanipi young people are now in training to work as miners, and will eventually join the eight locals who already work at the Metanor mine. “I have 50 youth who will turn 18 over the next five years,” noted Gull. “I have to find new jobs here for them.”
According to Hamelin, Metanor has invested $85 million to date to refurbish the site. Total investment is forecast to eventually reach $510 million. The company says the deposit contains a proven 200,000 ounces of gold; a figure it expects will climb as further exploration is undertaken.
“I am very proud of this agreement with the Cree community,” said Roy, who is also the company’s CEO. “We are working together more and more. We will continue to explore the territory in partnership with Waswanipi.”
The Bachelor Lake site, which was originally discovered in 1946, is on the territory of Tallyman Frank Blacksmith, who also collaborated in the agreement. It operated as a gold mine from 1982 until low gold prices led to its closure in 1989. Metanor acquired the mine in 2005 and started working there in 2007.
“We have developed a relationship with Metanor over many years. We have become friends,” said Gull. “We signed the agreement because we believe every mining company has a corporate social responsibility to the community that its mine affects.”
The agreement is based on conditions imposed in an environmental permit granted by COMEX after it reviewed the project last May. Aside from the SEPA, COMEX also stipulated that an environmental review must be conducted on possible impacts on Bachelor Lake. The federal government, meanwhile, is responsible for studying possible impacts on fish populations.
Coon Come emphasized that any agreement must be based on three principles: that wildlife be protected; appropriate measures be taken to protect the environment and Cree traditional activities; and that benefits flow directly to communities where resource-extraction projects are established. This is the seventh SEPA signed by the Grand Council and Cree Regional Authority.
Gull acknowledged that there had been contamination concerns about the Bachelor Lake site before Metanor acquired the mine in 2005. But he is confident the company is taking the appropriate precautions to ensure that contaminants used in the gold-mining process, such as cyanide, are contained, noting that all water used in the operation is being recycled.
He said a bigger challenge for the community is to force Quebec and the mining industry to cough up the resources needed to environmentally reclaim 50 other abandoned mine sites in Waswanipi territory.
The agreement contains another milestone for the Waswanipi Cree – for the first time the community is directly participating in the review process with its own environmental entity.