How much longer are we going to take it? I know that the mines are closer to Ouje-Bougoumou than in Nemaska, but they are just as deadly to anyone who resides in the region or anywhere on this planet. I have just as much right to stand up and speak as the people in Ouje-Bougoumou do. The rivers are our Mother Earth’s veins, which we all know. We heard it time and time again from those who truly understand and care. If you get bitten in the toe by a tiny poisonous spider, the poison will travel through one vein first, then through other veins, eventually reaching your brain and killing you. The mines are exactly like the poisonous spider. Where the water flows, the poison goes. Harming and killing what ever is in its path.
I’ve been following the Ouje-Bougamou contamination issue for quite some time now and it just never ceases to amaze me that the government, some of our leaders and their consultants and others directly involved can work so hard at trying to prove that Christopher Covel’s findings are wrong. I grow more and more suspicious as it grows. I don’t trust the government and some of our leaders for even the slightest moment. They have been trying to make us believe that the elephant standing there is actually a mouse. The contamination is so obvious. Do they think we are actually going to believe them? Remember, even some of our own leaders are doing this to us otherwise they would have jumped to the truth and protected their own people immediately after Chris’s findings and continue to protect even after the agreement in principle (AIP) was signed. The award winning Maamuitaau documentary “Albert’s fish – part 2: Will anyone listen” seemed to have made a few people jump soon after it was aired. The government and our leaders ignored Albert’s question for the longest time until Chris discovered the toxins and until a CBC North journalist dug into the story. Even after Chris’s toxic discovery and especially when the AIP was signed they didn’t do much to protect the people in fact they actually stalled on the issue. For some reason though they jumped only after it became more public and aired on TV.
The government and again, also our leaders, are now telling us that Chris’s findings are right but the toxins do not come from the mines themselves but originate naturally from further upriver or elsewhere. Give us a break!!! People have died of cancer!!! Fish are deformed!!! Life-giving water now all toxic!!! Kill zone’s all over the place!!! Tailings, slurry and toxins dumped right into the lake!!! This is what I see, not a mouse!!!
Mercury? Mercury is not the issue here. The government is using mercury as a “red herring,” as Chris puts it. They are trying to turn us from the very toxic arsenic, cyanide and heavy metals. For us Cree people, we’re so used to talking about mercury because of the dams and reservoirs they figure that that’s all we’ll talk about and not the other toxins. The government wants us to talk about the mercury only because it is easier for them to prove to us that the mercury is coming naturally from other sources. We already know that lots of the mercury does come naturally from the environment. This is not news to us.
To me it sure seems like the AIP is more sensitive than the people and the environment. I can recall reading that someone in leadership stated that they have to be careful how they deal with the contamination issue because it’s sensitive to the new agreement and that they did not want to alert the media because there was already too much politics. If this is true, then I state, sensitive-schmensitive, the people have cancer and so will our children. They can’t even drink the life-giving water anymore!! Even on the agreement that was shown to us, only one page talked about mining. Just one page!!! During the consultations, the contamination issue was kept “hush, hush.” Why are the governments, leaders, consultants and mining companies so slow to protect us from the deadly toxins, yet so fast to ram the 50-year AIP down our throats? Why?
From the time the AIP was announced to the time it was signed, it took only three months. It’s been over two years since Christopher discovered the deadly toxins and yet there is still no major breakthrough for the Crees and the trees that are suffering from this. The mines and the AIP arc going to devastate the land, our culture, the animals and the people forever. Land, Money, Power, Control and Vanadium is the reason and that’s the bottom line.
Last spring a few of us with Chris, got to film and see first hand what the contamination has done to the environment. I saw the sediment ponds in the back of the mines and how poorly they are kept up to the safety standards. The sediment pond which is supposed to hold in the contamination has a pipe that drains out directly into the lake spewing out deadly arsenic and cyanide which it has been doing for the past 50 years or more. The sediment pond dams are made up of the very material (rocks, dust, slurry) that they pull out of the mines. The tailings and slurry were just dumped into the lake. The tailings contain arsenic, cyanide, and other heavy metals at levels that are not natural to the environment. All toxic!!! The mining companies have been doing this for the past 50 years. How far down river have the toxins traveled in those years? Those rivers eventually drain out to Waskaganish through the Nottaway River then out to James Bay.
The tests show the proof of how high the toxic levels are. The toxins to this day are still being dumped and are still pouring into the lake and river systems. Some of the readings are so high that it scared the health out of me and even the person who tested the samples. In fact he said he had never before seen levels this high. Remember, this has been going on for more that 50 years and the readings I’m talking about come from one mine only. There are about 33 mines just in the Ouje-Bougoumou area. Thirty-three!!!
I saw photographs that were taken from the air before the mines were in place and photos taken in the mid 1970s and photos up to now arfd what I saw made me sick. I honestly wanted to vomit. Beautiful islands that used to be, were all joined together by mine tailings. Bays on the islands were no longer bays because they just dumped the mine tailings right into the lake joining point to point. Tons and tons of toxic waste dumped right into the lake. Trappers still tell the story of a greenish white substance that came down the Nemejiche River from the Joe Mann mine back in the 1960s that killed all the fish, leaving them floating belly up and left some beaver and muskrat dead or with no hair. The sediment pond broke and released all the toxins into the river and the toxins are still there. The aerial photographs reveal the proof of this. You can see that upriver from the mine the natural width of the river is about 100 feet and just below where the sediment pond dam broke the river narrows down to only 20 feet. Trees have not grown on each side of the river since, and if they have, they are deformed. The toxic slurry piled up on the edges of the river and has been there for the past 40 years. I was there; we dug through a meter of toxic slurry before we reached the original riverbed. One whole meter of toxic waste and this goes for miles down river.
I can go on telling you more horror stories of what I know and saw at those mines, but I suggest you go see for yourselves, and I’m sure you will understand, and maybe then your feet will ground themselves. I’m sure a lot of people in Ouje-Bougoumou are confused and don’t know exactly who to believe. Chris and Joseph are saying that something’s terribly wrong and the government, the leaders and the mining companies are saying no, no it’s okay. And that if it’s not okay, then they are not responsible. Chris and Joe have stuck to one point only and the leaders have been beating around the bush ever since. Why???
In the Maamuitaau documentation that was filmed about the mines called “Albert’s Fish” part one, the governments and others actually deny that there is a problem with the mines and the fish, then later a chart comes up from the Quebec Ministry of Health telling people that they can eat only a few fish caught in the contaminated areas.
My opinion is the governments are putting personal interests before the lives of our children, our grandchildren and so on. If there is no clean up done who knows how much more damage it will cause. A couple of elders that I truly came to admire and love are directly affected by the mines and will again be by the new vanadium mine (Matthew Wapachee and his wife). They spoke of the animals, the deformed fish with sunken eyes and tumours, how the frogs have disappeared from the river systems, how they no longer drink the water in front of their cabin, and so on, and if we are true to our culture and traditions we will believe our elders who stand up for the land more than the people who are paid to protect the mines.
There is something else that really bothers me. The mines have been spewing out toxins for the past half-century and in the meantime the people in Ouje-Bougoumou, especially the elders, continued to consume who knows how many toxic fish. Despite catching deformed fish, the people were still consuming the fish and drinking the water because they were not informed about the deadly toxins. Fish is one of our favorite foods, so much so that it is in our blood. It is our culture to catch and eat fish. This though is no longer for Matthew Wapachee and his wife and the others who reside in the area. Matthew told us that he now has to rely on others to provide fish for him, fish that are caught in areas not affected by the mines. His water also has to be fetched elsewhere as before they just used to scoop it up a couple of feet from their cabin. With all the further development that is to take place in our territory it won’t be long before no one can practice this crucial part of our culture, which is to eat fresh fish and to drink pristine water.
Christopher Covel is an expert at what he does and is known worldwide for his true care for the environment. He has a fearless and honest heart and the reason for this is because the person who stands beside him is honesty and truth.
My dear friend Joseph Shecapio Blacksmith, who is the environmental officer for Ouje-Bougamou, has been struggling so hard to do his job honestly especially since the AIP was brought on to us. Before he had the support of our leaders then all of a sudden during and after the AIP he is shunned by the very people who once supported him.
Joseph and Christopher and a few others seem to be standing alone on this issue. The government and our leaders seem to be standing on the other side, the one that protects the mines. Tell me, what’s wrong with this picture?
I want Christopher to do the study because he has no involvement with land ownership, no involvement with the mines in anyway except to expose the truth; he is not involved with the agreement, so he is neutral. Also I trust him more because he sees that the elephant is actually an elephant and not a mouse. As for Joseph, keep up the honest work, for you are a true and honest man. You really live up to your job title as Environmental Officer and you really do care for the environment, animals, your people, and our children. Keep up the good work and don’t back down. Remember when you stand with truth and honesty you will never lose.
As for myself, all you Cree readers may know me by now. I wrote something and handed it out at the bridge when we were standing up for what we believed in. NO AIP! When I look at the whole picture of not only the mines, I see a lot of dishonest people and it’s sad to see it. This needs to stop. I for one may have my personal faults and may make mistakes and like every single one of us here. I am not perfect but with something as large as the contamination issue and peoples’ lives at stake, I definitely know where I stand. I stand to be honest about it just like Joseph and Chris. The land, the animals, and the people are contaminated but the governments and our leaders seem to be putting self-interests first and that really disturbs me.
Something needs to be done and fast. More mines want to open up in our area and if nothing is done then the new mines will operate in the same life-threatening manner. I personally would love to have no future mining at all in any region because it is very destructive to the life-giving source; Mother Earth. Like our own mothers, she feeds us.
This letter may offend a few people. But a few offended people do not outweigh the truth, nor the people and animals who have died and who will continue to die in the future.