The Quebec cabinet gave the Osisko Mining Corp. the go-ahead in August to begin production in Malartic on what will be Canada’s largest open-pit goldmine in history. The only problem is that the project will be happening on traditional lands owned by the Algonquin Nation and they have never given Osisko their blessing.
“We are not at all happy with this situation and the way this has been going. We are now trying to get a movement going on our side and we will be commencing legal action very soon,” said Algonquin Nation Grand Chief Lucien Wabanonik.
Osisko began prospecting the land for resources in 2006 when they discovered untouched gold deposits estimated at 6.3 million ounces. It is anticipated that the mine will produce about 620,000 ounces for the first five or six years of the venture.
To get to the ore however, nearly 200 homes in Malartic will have to be moved. Among those who will be displaced are about 100 Algonquins. For the town, located 70 kms east of Rouyn-Noranda, this will have a major impact on its 3640 residents.
Beyond the relocation, the Algonquins have communal ownership over this land and will also be losing the use of the land which several Algonquin communities practiced traditional activities on, such as hunting.
Though Wabanonik said that Osisko had approached the Algonquin Nation, it was never to see if they wanted to make any agreement or offer them any compensation. Nor did the federal and provincial governments offer the Algonquins anything either.
Though the Algonquin territory has remained unceded, the tribal council would not have considered dealing with the government or the corporation as a means of forming an agreement so that the nation would have seen compensation.
Wabanonik said that his nation has never entered into any kind of agreement with any government as his people are fearful of what might happen.
“We never had a treaty with the federal or provincial governments because we totally disagree with the land claims policy because it would seek to extinguish our rights, that would be the end result. We see it as an assimilation process and this is why we do not have treaties. We have rights and we believe that we are a sovereign nation and we will continue to believe what we have always believed,” said Wabanonik.
The First Nations group also has major concerns about the environmental impact that the project will have. The project will require a significant amount of blasting to create the pit that will be about two kms long, 780 metres wide and 380 metres deep.
Osisko is being viewed by some in the region as heroic for the job creation that the project will entail, 800 direct jobs during the construction phase and 465 permanent direct jobs over 10 years. But, the Algonquins are viewing this project as a loss for their people and the environment.
“The water that is going to be used for this project is phenomenal, and minerals and chemicals, such as cyanide and arsenic, are going to be used. This is something that we want to look at very seriously and we want to have a say in this,” said Wabanonik.
For now the tribal council is doing their best to seek out legal specialists in this area which has been difficult as they do not have the financial resources that their opponents have.
For the time being they are not considering blockades or laying themselves down in front of bulldozers. Though Wabanoknik admits that some of his people would consider going to these kinds of lengths, for the moment they are looking to hold off on violence.
At the same time, according to Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, this might be an even more uphill battle than anticipated.
“The mining act has very little reference to First Nations groups and issues and companies in terms of what their obligations are. For instance, to come to agreements with First Nations communities, a lot of that is done through any given company wanting to do business with communities. But, there is no obligation per se. It really lays within the company themselves and their willingness to make agreements,” said Picard.