In what some in Eeyou Istchee said was not a surprising decision, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Council (CNSC) announced on October 17 that it would be granting a license for advanced uranium exploration in the Mistissini area to Strateco Resources Inc.
This came despite the profound opposition to the project voiced by Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio and the Mistissini Band Council, the Grand Council of the Crees (GCC), and many members of the community who spoke during the three days of public hearings on the issue in June. Following those hearings, the GCC in August called for a permanent moratorium on all uranium-related activity in Eeyou Istchee.
Responding by email, Aurèle Gervais of the CNSC stated that the decision was made because the CNSC judged the venture to offer no risk to the environment or to public health and safety. “Social acceptability for a project is outside the commission’s mandate,” he said.
Chief Richard Shecapio was blunt in his response. “Obviously we totally disapprove of that decision. We understand that this advanced exploration program that [Strateco] is proposing may present a low risk at this point, but we’re not only looking at this exploration phase. We’re looking at the big picture. This is part of a project that will lead to exploitation eventually. There’s no exploitation yet, but this could lead to future mining of uranium, which we don’t want to see.”
The response from the GCC was immediate: the same day as the CNSC announcement, it sent out a press release stating, “The James Bay Cree Nation has affirmed its commitment to the complete cessation of all uranium exploration, mining and waste emplacement in Eeyou Istchee.”
Already, the GCC seemed preparing itself for a fight. “We remain determined to protect our economies and way of life against the unique and grave threat posed by uranium mining and uranium waste,” stated Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. “The Cree Nation will proceed with all necessary steps to ensure that our permanent uranium moratorium in Eeyou Istchee is recognized and implemented.”
Chief Shecapio affirmed this. “The Crees in the past have been able to succeed in defending Cree rights and protecting the environment,” he said.
Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff agreed. “In the past, with regard to certain development projects, if the Crees were not agreeable to certain projects, they did not happen. We always strategize. We’ll use all avenues once the time comes.”
Iserhoff underlined that the Cree Nation is not opposed to mineral exploitation in general, but maintains a firm stand on those substances it considers potentially harmful.
“There’s certain mineral development the Crees are interested in,” he said. “Uranium is one of the ones we’ve always maintained a position on. The Cree Nation is not interested at all in any uranium, whether it’s exploration or anything after exploration.”
Iserhoff went on to say that he supports the opposition to the project completely. “I’m from Mistissini and I don’t want it to go any further than it is now.”
Two days after the CNSC decision, the GCC responded to statements made to the media by Strateco President Guy Hébert, who claimed that the COMEX environmental review report on the project waas “unanimously favourable” and supported by “Cree representatives on the committee”.
In a second press release, the GCC forwarded the full text of the COMEX report, which had previously not been public, highlighting that the Review Committee had “serious reservations” about the project. As well, the COMEX report states that Strateco “must obtain the Crees’ consent, through the Mistissini Band Council, with regard to the project’s social acceptability, and must enter into a written agreement to that effect with the Band Councillor or another body designated by the Band Council.”
“We are surprised at Strateco’s decision to misinform the public by misstating the content of the report, in an apparent attempt to pressure the Quebec administrator to make a decision in its favour,” stated Coon Come.
“The idea of [Guy Hébert] saying the Crees are in support, and even saying that the Cree Nation likes the idea of a uranium project, that shouldn’t have happened,” said Iserhoff. “There were outright lies, telling the world that the Crees were in support of the project. As a developer coming into the territory, they should try to find ways to always include us in any discussions. If the Crees already said no, then why pursue the idea?”
Quebec’s new Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks, Daniel Hebert, has announced his intention to call for public hearings with the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement on the project.