Gold prospectors are packing their tin pans and flocking to Iyiyuuschii in hopes of finding the next Klondike and striking it rich.

Mining activity has doubled in Cree lands in the last three years thanks to a new Quebec government program aimed at promoting the development of the “Middle-North.”

Cree lands were home to the biggest gold find in all of Quebec in the last three years, made by Virginia Gold Mines, according to Virginia president Andre Beaumont.

Gold deposits have been discovered near LG-3 and along the Eastmain River, near the James Bay Highway, he said.

“It’s an exciting area,” said Lionel Martin, chief geologist for Eastern Canada at Noranda Mining and Exploration Inc. Noranda is exploring for copper near LG-3.

“It’s a relatively young area for exploration, but there’s the right rock types. At this stage, it’s very grassroots. We’re basically poking around,” said Martin.

The mining companies are still exploring and prospecting, but they are excited about the potential.

A dozen mining companies have sent a small army of geologists, prospectors and drillers to scour Cree lands for gold and other valuable minerals.

The most successful company with claims near LG-3 and Eastmain is tiny Virginia Gold Mines of Quebec City.

“We have a huge property,” said Beaumont. “We have invested quite a lot of money in order to prove the potential of the property. There are small but significant gold structures there,” he said.

Virginia has claimed a 100-kilometre stretch of territory along the Chisasibi River, which has a good gold potential. Two-thirds of the claim is west of the LG-3 dam and one-third is to the east.

Virginia is also active north of Schefferville and along the Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence River. So far, it has spent $1.5 to $2 million prospecting in James Bay.

Beaumont said the companies are still a long way from being ready to open a mine. A major deposit must be found in order to make one worthwhile because of the distance and lack of infrastructure in the North.

“We will need a better deposit than Val d’Or to develop it,” said Beaumont. “It’s a huge challenge.”

Only a small percentage of known mineral deposits are actually big enough to be turned into a profitable mine. But Beaumont said if a mine is developed at LG-3 or on the Eastmain River, the miners will likely be stationed in Radisson. A mine would mean a minimum of 100 new Radisson residents, and a maximum of 300.

The mining activity has exploded in the last two years because of Quebec’s so-called Middle-North Program, which will provide $15 million over five years to encourage the opening of Iyiyuuschii to mining interests. Until the last few years, mining exploration was frozen in James Bay because of Hydro-Quebec’s development plans.

Cree leaders are reacting cautiously to all this. Four communities are affected: Chisasibi, Wemindji, Eastmain and Nemaska. While Beaumont said relations with Crees are “very good,” Cree officials contacted by The Nation said they know little about what’s going on and are now trying to get more information.

“There’s not much information given to us,” said one Cree band official. “I think it will affect the community. In fact all Cree communities could be affected by it.”