What was old is new again as Metanor Resources Inc. has announced plans to revitalize an old gold mine next to Bachelor Lake near Waswanipi. They are also looking to do exploration diamond drilling on a property south of Cree territory.
And so far, the Cree response has been good.
“One positive thing is the people and the community of Waswanipi are involved in this project, including the trappers,” said Waswanipi Chief John Kitchen. “They are satisfied and that’s the main thing. We didn’t want to leave them aside and do all the work and then say sign here. As long as they follow the steps from the beginning, it’s a good project.”
The mine has gone through the first phase of the joint Cree/Quebec environmental review Committee’s (COMEX) requests to answer questions related to the effect it will have on the Cree economy, its economic viability as well as the proposed lifespan of the mine, which is estimated at roughly 12 years.
The next phase is to ensure the environmental and social impacts of the mine are low enough to be acceptable to COMEX’s standards.
“The question for us for phase two would be to weigh the economic and social benefits for the community and to find out what’s been done,” said Brian Craik, one of two Cree representatives sitting on COMEX’s board.
The current phase includes gathering of a bulk sample of 50,000 tonnes. Metanor also has to secure the proper permit from Quebec to continue past August, when their current one expires.
“We asked them for more information of what they were finding out from the old deposits and they said they weren’t ready yet,” said Craik.
The mine, currently operating as an open-pit mine, was shut down and purchased by different companies numerous times since the 1970s as gold prices and demand dipped to an all-time low.
These days, gold has skyrocketed and is worth almost US$900 an ounce, more than four times its value just a few years ago.
“It’s something we have to do as a First Nation to create employment and training for our youth,” said Chief Kitchen, who hosted a mining conference in March in Waswanipi. “We have to take time with them and solve the social issues they have. Work is the answer to social issues.”
Under the Paix des Braves, Crees get a better share of the proverbial pie when it comes to jobs and economic spin-offs. In the case of the Bachelor Lake Mine, Crees will hold 40 of the 150 jobs once operations are in full swing, according to President and CEO Ghislain Morin.
Metanor purchased the rights to the mine from Campbell Resources three years ago.
“We have a good relationship together,” Morin told the Nation. “We employ Crees from Waswanipi and they’re good workers. We like to work with the Cree Nation.”
Metanor is currently in the midst of sinking their shafts to mine for gold another 1000 feet. They are convinced the mine can be profitable for years to come and they recently had their third pour – the process to make gold bars – in late April.
Morin also mentioned economic opportunities for Waswanipi such as the use of local carpenters and the purchase of fuel from the community.
“There’s no impact there at all,” said Morin, when asked about the effect the mine will have on the land. “We are re-circulating all the water back to the mill, so none of it will be affecting nature at all.”
The Grand Council of the Crees likes to take a collaborative strategy when dealing with new or re-opened mines in the territory.
Executive Director Bill Namagoose cited the importance of dealing on an individual basis with each mine.
“We take the position that all the natural resources in Cree traditional territory are Cree resources,” he said.
“Every mine is different in Cree territory. Is it a rich mine or a marginal one? We develop our strategy based on those factors. When we negotiate we can’t kill the mine with excessive demands.”
Namagoose said deals will proceed as long as everything fits into the Cree strategy and adheres to their way of life and does not impact the environment or land negatively. “It’s a good job-creation strategy, it’s good for the Crees.”
“The Quebec government has a more collaborative and cooperative approach to Crees,” he said.
Quebec learned a hard lesson in the 1990s when lobbying at the United Nations in New York City and intense media pressure led to the cancellation of $20 billion in import/export contracts for Hydro-Quebec through the nixing of the damming of the Great Whale River
“That hurt Quebec a lot,” said Namagoose. “Now both governments have a better approach under the Paix des Braves and they include Crees in any potential projects on the territory. They learned their lesson.”