The Cree community of Wemindji may just be in for an economic boom in the coming years as in signing a deal for mining development with Goldcorp Inc on Category 3 lands just outside of the community.

The signing ceremony took place in Wemindji on February 21 between Goldcorp, Wemindji Chief Rodney Mark and members of the Grand Council of the Crees.

“This Collaboration Agreement is a vibrant example where, with the participation of the Crees, mining development can take place and prosper in Eeyou Istchee.

“This agreement marks the beginning of a collaborative and fruitful relationship between the Crees and Goldcorp, a relationship based on respect for Cree rights and environmental and economic sustainability. In accordance with the principles of our Cree Nation Mining Policy, the Crees and Goldcorp have ensured that our traditional rapport to the land remains intact. This agreement sets the new standard for mining proponents seeking to do business in Eeyou Istchee,” said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come at the ceremony.

According to Mark, this project, which is still only in an exploratory phase, is going ahead with the blessing of the people of Wemindji after four-and-a-half years of negotiations. In that time, Mark said Goldcorp managed to address the community’s concerns when it came to environmental health and safety, with the company even going as far as holding workshops for the community so that everyone could understand the project.

Still, in signing the February 21 agreement, the project is yet to be set in stone as a great deal needs to happen before any variety of production can get underway.

“They are looking to do shaft mining here; I think that we would have a different perspective if it was open pit. Right now the project is in the advanced exploration stages but there still needs to be a Section 28 Environmental Review. We have signed an agreement for now but this does not mean that we have okayed it. What this means is that we have signed an agreement but the environmental process still needs to take place,” said Mark.

Mark said initially the community’s main concern had been about the potential tailings ponds that could come about as a byproduct of the project. At this point in time however, using tailings ponds to retain the waste generated has been taken out of the project and other mechanisms are to be incorporated. From Mark’s understanding of the development project, the current plans leave no room for environmental contamination, particularly where it comes to water and wildlife in the vicinity.

Mark said he has the blessing of the local tallymen to go ahead with the project.

“The most important issue has been the potential for jobs as there are real employment opportunities here. During the construction phase alone we are looking at 800 jobs and so this is going to be a huge opportunity not just for Wemindji but also for the Cree nation as a whole. During the production phase we are looking at another 600 jobs but right now these numbers are just estimates,” said Mark.

Between now and the coming years when the project is finally off the ground and will require manpower to operate the mine, Mark said that within his community there will be a large focus on getting Crees the training necessary to obtain the coveted, high-paying jobs that will be available.

According to George R. Burns, Senior Vice President of Canada and U.S. Operations at Goldcorp, the deal is being touted as a win-win situation for everyone involved.

“This is really an extremely important project for Goldcorp. It is going to be a significant part of our production and asset profile and in terms of entering into a relationship with the Cree, I can tell you that it is one of the things that I am most proud of in my career.

“It is a relationship where we are jointly aligned on the success of the project and respecting all of the major factors that go into a major mine, the environment, people, and the communities in and around where the mine is going to be conducted and in this case, in Cree territory, on a Cree trapline. I have been involved in negotiations directly for the last two years and developed a solid relationship with everybody that was part of the negotiating process,” said Burns.