The decision by Strateco Resources to tear down its uranium-development camp in the Otish Mountains north of Mistissini is something that all Crees can celebrate. From the grassroots to the band council to the Grand Council, people came together to speak with one voice: we will never accept uranium mining in Eeyou Istchee.
The company explained it away as an economic decision. “This decision is part of a cost-cutting program that Strateco must adopt due to the Quebec government’s refusal to issue the final permit needed to start the advanced exploration phase of the Matoush project,” said a Strateco press release.
But we have to give credit where credit is due. This struggle evolved into a campaign that included grassroots Cree and the leadership of local and regional Cree governments.
It was a difficult battle to stop this uranium mine from becoming a reality and every Cree should be proud of the stance and work they did to achieve their goals of preserving the vital ecology of this region.
At a BAPE hearing in Montreal Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said, “Our position is clear: uranium development is not welcome in our territory, Eeyou Istchee.” He gave the same message almost every Cree expressed in the past to today adding, “This is a burden on future generations that we are not prepared to assume.”
Even though the BAPE process does not ordinarily have jurisdiction in Eeyou lstchee, Coon Come said the decision to participate was because the “Cree Nation recognized the need for a broad and independent inquiry and consultation process, regarding the uranium sector as a whole in Quebec.”
Coon Come expressed the Cree concerns by stating, “Large quantities of radioactive waste must inevitably be produced in the course of mining uranium, and this waste will remain dangerous and toxic for hundreds of thousands of year. This is a burden on future generations that we are not prepared to assume.”
Coon Come added the Crees were not alone in their opposition as many Quebec communities have similar sentiments.
Strateco will continue its court battles to force approval for the mine – or at least make Quebec taxpayers fork out millions to compensate for lost profits. But, in the end, the unshakeable opposition among the Crees and their allies proved to be too much for the company to overcome.
As a result Strateco has already started selling off their assets to other mining outfits in Eeyou Istchee and that says a lot. The press release promises, “The Matoush camp will be closed in such a way as to protect the environment and human health, in keeping with the approach Strateco has taken since the start of the Matoush project in 2006.”
Almost eight long years ago, the community of Mistissini took a collective decision to oppose uranium mining and exploration. Given the health risks and other dangers associated with the uranium industry, the Cree felt it was an unacceptable burden for future generations and the well being of the land and its inhabitants. There were many other resource-development projects that were more beneficial and sustainable than uranium mining.
Every Cree should be proud that this challenge has been met and overcome through efforts involving all aspects of Cree values and traditions.