Cree leaders have mixed feelings about two new gold mines opening soon in the Mistissini territory. The mines may lead to economic spin-offs for Crees, but have also renewed concern about a lack of compensation for the exploitation of resources on Cree lands.

Don MacLeod, economic-development coordinator for the Mistissini First Nation, said discussions are on-going about the possibility of some contracts to Crees for slashing, road construction and construction of facilities. Crees will also be able to apply for jobs in the mines.

Especially promising in terms of contracts is the open-pit mine that the company Metall Mining plans to open in the Troilus Lake Basin about 100 km west of Mistissini. The mine site will require several square-kilometres of forest to be clear-cut, work which MacLeod hopes will go to Mistissini Crees. The company recently submitted an environmental-impact study to Quebec and is awaiting an okay to start production.

The mine has an expected lifespan of 14 years, and will eventually be 200 feet deep and several miles across. At the end of operations, the company has agreed to turn the pit into a small lake and stock it with fish. Environmentally destructive milling for both mines will be done in Chibougamau.

A second gold mine, this one an incline mine, will be operated by MSV Ressources 310 km northeast of Chibougamau, at the source of the Eastmain River. Production will get underway this summer, continuing until the end of 1997 and yielding 50,000 ounces of gold annually. Based on current retail prices, that’s $80 million worth of gold over four years. A100-kilometre winter road has already been built to connect the site to existing roads.

MacLeod said mining companies are more conscientuous today than they used to be. “They’re trying to keep in touch with us. They’re watching the environment quite a bit more. Before, they used to come in with no consideration about anything.”

But Deputy Grand Chief Kenny Blacksmith said the mine owners are operating without providing any compensation to Mistissini or the trappers affected by the operations. He said no company has ever provided such compensation for exploiting Cree lands, a situation that has to change. “If we are going to have self-government, we need to have self-financing. What better way than benefitting from our resources? At some point, we have to put pressure on the company. I think it’s time we stood up,” he said.

“The Grand Council will always do what it can to emphasize the need to benefit from resources and support the communities. But the demand has to come from the community most affected.”