As the summer is coming in and that the next and final hearing for the Matoush project will be at the end of September, it is important that as many people as possible in Mistissini and elsewhere in Eeyou Itschee are aware of this possible uranium mine and its consequences. Maps of traplines are pretty revealing of potential future projects (right down to Lake Mistassini) as well as along the southeastern border of the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park. Strateco, the promoter, claims that it has informed the population very well. How come so many people still do not know about it? Who decides, in Eeyou Itschee, that such a project is acceptable?

So far in Quebec and Ontario, Algonquins from Sharbot Lake and people in western Quebec are opposing uranium exploration as well as communities in Sept-Ïles and Mont-Laurier. Dozens of municipalities are asking for a ban on exploration and exploitation of uranium in Quebec. Are the people of the Cree Mineral Exploration Board deciding? Are only the tallymen of Mistissini deciding? Are only the people having traplines over there (including our Grand Chief) deciding? The company is promising 15 jobs to the Crees during exploration and 15% of a staggering 130 jobs on the exploitation phase. All this for an exploitation of 7 to 10 years that may be stopped if the price of uranium goes down, leaving tailings that will be radioactive for years, not counting the fact that the actual project is at a distance of 15 kilometres from the future Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park to be consecrated to the Cree culture and that will allow people owning traplines to bring paying guests into the park. While a few tallymen or trapline owners might be compensated, what about the neighbouring lands? Although the nuclear-safety committee claims that the radon evaporates, independent scientists have found that a halo of a 10-km radius forms over the radioactive tailings by still wind.

The radon itself “decomposes” in radioactive sub-products called half-daughters. It produces lead and polonium, which contaminates the food chain. Polonium deriving from natural sources is already present, but a moose staying close to tailings will have a higher level of polonium in its flesh after two weeks of exposure. Even if consumption of that contaminated meat is not a cause for great alarm, is it such a great idea to add some to the environment and the food chain?

In Saskatchewan, NO uranium mines have received, after 60 years, a certificate of closure, which means that none of the mines have been properly shut down to this day!

Remember that if this mine opens, it is a go for other ones and this means that there could be mines right up to the lake and bordering the park. Most people in Quebec oppose such projects, but Mr Harper declared a few months ago that he would ease the way for uranium mines and risk-capital ventures in Canada. The Ministry of Mines (MRNF) in Quebec seems very enthusiastic too. The uranium companies (AREVA, Cameco) are supporting the junior exploration companies. Lots of money is invested in publicity and so-called information sessions. Yet, these information sessions are held at hours when people are working and they present the project as totally safe.

Although Strateco is an exploration company, it presents its project as including a yellowcake mill, which will entail driving truckloads for 70km through the park, on the future Otish road. The whole process involves chemical products and use of lots of water. Obviously, the government agencies repeat that they manage the risks, understating the fact that there is a risk to people (workers being first) and environment. The residues from the yellowcake mill will be put in a large pool covered with water. A uranium mining company has a limited responsibility (about 10 years), once the mine is closed. Drought can dry out the pool, exposing very radioactive residues from the mill. Just like the mine tailings will be eroded by snow melting, rain and wind. How can we secure this area for thousands of years to come, as the tailings and mill residues will remain radioactive for as long?

There is a ban on uranium mining in Nova Scotia, Nunavut and British Columbia. Dozens of municipalities in Quebec are asking for a ban. So are thousands of citizens and even the union of Quebec’s government workers are supporting such a ban!

How inviting will it be for Crees and tourists to see this type of operation in pristine Cree territory, right in the middle of one of the three most important watersheds in Quebec. This one is called E’weewach (=where the waters originate) and the waters go toward James Bay and the St-Lawrence River and the Atlantic.

Lake Matoush is linked to a river that flows into the Temiscamie River, which flows into Lake Mistassini. Only half the watershed of the Temiscamie River has been protected in view of the future park. It is impossible to protect it all, because of claims that have been given to the exploration companies and the Quebec government’s lack of will in buying these out.

Every miner will tell you that accidents in mines are frequent. Today, in Australia, there are 100,000 litres of contaminated water that flow daily into the underground waters in Kakadu Park, where the authorities had thought it wise to have a uranium mine.

The new proposed Quebec mining law does not get rid of the “gré à gré” agreement. This is heavily criticized by a majority of people working for the environment and individuals who have been opposing mine projects in their personal lives.

When the James Bay project was built in the 1970s, the Crees were not even consulted. Things have evolved and the Quebec and Cree nations have reached an agreement with La Paix des Braves. In this agreement, the Crees agreed to mining development. It does not mean that every single project or type of mining must be done.

The Mich Cini Coalition believes that uranium mining is not sustainable development. It means heavy industry and a huge problem of waste management, not just a few years, but for thousands of years to come. It also feeds the nuclear chain, which includes an even worst problem of very radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons, such as the ones used in Iraq, made of depleted uranium.

Radiation attacks the living cells and can break the DNA chain, resulting in sicknesses and deformation in babies. Even doctors are limiting as much as possible X-Rays exposure to patients. There is no proven safe low-level radiation dose!

Please circulate this information, sign our petition asking for a ban on uranium mining and exploration on Eeyou Itschee and go on Internet to get information not just from the federal government or Strateco, but also from sources opposing uranium mining and exploration. The Navajos are still exposed to contamination of their water and lands. Read about the Piñon Ridge Mill. See the documentary Uranium on the National Film Board website (Elliot Lake, Serpent River). Read Jim Harding’s book on uranium mining in Canada. Read Carl Z Morgan papers. Read the Pembina Institute website or the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility’s website. Just don’t accept the information presented to you by Strateco or the government as being true.

In October 2009, the Mich Cini Coalition presented a demand to have speakers discuss the dangers of uranium mining to the Mistissini Band. Our demand got “lost” at the band office.

Let’s decide together what we want for us and our children! We can act wisely and safely, and in accordance to traditional Cree values while promoting truly sustainable jobs and a safe environment for the future.

Élaine Hébert
Spokeperson for the Mich Cini Coalition