As Quebec’s first diamond mine gears up for operation, two Mistissini Cree companies are preparing for the roles that they will play in its labour force thanks to the priority orders laid out in the 2012 Mecheshoo Agreement.
The agreement signed between the Grand Council of the Crees, the Cree Nation of Mistissini and Stornoway Diamonds provided for employment and business opportunities as well as training and education initiatives. The Swallow families, whose traplines the mine is built on, are supplying labour and contracts to build and support what will one day be among the world’s largest diamond producers.
According to Stornoway Vice-President of Public Affairs, Ghislain Poirier, the family’s history with the mine goes back to 2001, when they first met with the Swallows and Mistissini to discuss the development of a diamond mine. Poirier said that he still cherishes memory of that meeting and the feast that followed.
“During the following years we tried to incorporate members of the family into our workforce. This was one of our first priorities in the exploration phase. There were seasonal activities at this time and so many members of this family were on our workforce,” said Poirier.
This was a step-by-step process, however. It was necessary to work with the community and the family to ensure that the project was not only done in accordance with Cree values but that the people of Mistissini would benefit.
Poirier said that these efforts intensified in 2011 during Stornoway’s environmental impact study through an Experimental Exchange Group. Poirier said that they sat with the community every six weeks to explain where the project was at and see what their thoughts were. The company met with 30-60 members of the community each time.
“We were able to receive their comments and this was a real exchange of information. With that information we adapted our project, moved several things and changed our layout – all because the comments and concerns of the family and the community were taken into consideration by Stornoway,” said Poirier.
Poirier said the Mecheshoo Agreement contains a special priority order for job opportunities for the Swallow family. The company has to first consider applications for job postings from the family, a Cree from Mistissini or a Cree from elsewhere with similar qualifications.
According to Poirier, this is a major advantage for the family as if they were to have two bids with similar competitive prices; Stornoway would give preference to the bid from Mistissini. And, if someone from the Swallow family were involved, they would give that first preference.
This has worked in two cases already. Sidney Swallow, in partnership with Keith Kiskinshiish, has created a janitorial and catering company. Emerson Swallow founded Swallow Fournier, a joint venture construction company, with the Fournier construction company of Val-d’Or.
“We have been doing this business for three years now. It was very small at first but now it is beginning to grow. Right now we have about 10 employees,” said Sidney Swallow.
Swallow said there will eventually be hundreds working on site at the project.
“This is a sustainable business as we are going to need catering and janitorial services for 20 or 30 or 40 years. We don’t even know how long. And, as company we are really good to mine and to process ore but we can’t really make doughnuts and so as our core business is mining and milling, as for the rest we need the support of other organizations,” said Poirier.
While there are currently about 100 people on site, the 2014 goal is to complete a camp facility for 600 workers before October.
While Swallow-Fournier already participated in the road construction into the mine site, they are part of the team preparing the camp.
“We are now entering into a new phase, we worked on the road before and now we are building the paddings for the camp. We are just preparing the pads for where the camp site is going to be and we have 50% of that contract,” said Emerson Swallow.
Swallow’s business partnership was actually formed by his late father but upon his death was handed down to him along with the role of tallyman. Since beginning work with Stornoway last year, Swallow said that Swallow-Fournier has had over 40 employees and so the employment boom has had an impact on the lives of many in the region.
“The Crees are our priority when it comes to employment. We want to better the employment rates in our community and so far it has really bee going good,” said Swallow.
And, as the mine is projected to produce 1.5 to 2 million carats of diamonds per year for several decades, the future is not only looking bright, it dazzles.