Some of the biggest news to come out of this year’s Annual General Assembly in Waskaganish was that the Crees of Eeyou Istchee have declared a permanent moratorium on uranium exploration, uranium mining and uranium waste emplacement throughout Cree territory.

The day after the resolution was passed, on August 9, the Grand Council of the Crees released a statement explaining the views of the Cree people to the rest of the world and why this decision was made.

It states: “The risks inherent in uranium exploration, mining, milling, refining and transport, and in radioactive and toxic uranium mining waste, are incompatible with our stewardship responsibilities in Eeyou Istchee.”

One day later, Strateco Resources Inc, a mining company whose proposed uranium exploration project near Mistissini, is currently under review for approval by the province of Quebec and other governing bodies, released their own statement, implying that the Cree didn’t really have the authority to declare such a moratorium.

“Although the government of Quebec only can declare such a moratorium, the resolution underlines concerns of the Cree Nation that we have to take into account and for which we are in a position to answer,” declared Jean-Pierre Lachance, Strateco’s Executive and Exploration Vice President.

The release goes on to mention that a communications agreement was signed between the Cree Nation of Mistissini and Strateco in December of 2011 and also states the company’s determination to maintain a “dialogue” with the Crees. But Strateco’s message remains clear – to tell the public that no moratorium can stop their project.

But who really has the authority here?

For clarification, the Nation asked Matthew Coon Come, the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, to discuss Strateco’s statement and the resolution.

The Nation: Despite what Strateco is telling the public here, do the Crees in fact have such jurisdiction on declaring a moratorium?

Grand Chief: Strateco is seeking to reassure its investors by insisting that the Cree Nation only has the jurisdictions, rights and powers that have been granted and recognized by Quebec. The Cree Nation has always asserted that our jurisdiction and rights are not limited in this way, and that we have the right of self-determination and the jurisdiction to protect our lands and future generations.

We successfully asserted our jurisdiction when Hydro-Québec tried to build its Grande Baleine hydroelectric megaproject in our territory, and we successfully asserted our self-determination when Quebec was considering separating from Canada and taking us out of Canada. Both times, we were told we had no rights. More recently, we successfully asserted our rights and jurisdiction relating to resource development and governance within Category 3 lands. We have always exercised the jurisdiction required to protect Cree rights, and we will always continue to do so.

My experience from many decades of fighting for Cree rights is that jurisdiction is not a fixed concept. Quebec’s history within the Canadian federation provides many examples of this. They must have taken their inspiration from the Crees! Jurisdiction evolves, and I am confident that this will be true concerning uranium exploration, mining and waste in Eeyou Istchee.

TN: Does your moratorium put an end to the prospects of uranium mining for Strateco and the many other companies who have made claims throughout Eeyou Istchee, particularly around Mistissini Lake?

GC: First, the Permanent Moratorium declared on August 8, 2012, is not “mine” and it is not the Grand Council’s. It was declared with unanimous support by a General Assembly of the Cree Nation. The Permanent Moratorium is an enactment by the Cree Nation as a whole, to protect our way of life and Eeyou Istchee. The Permanent Moratorium makes clear that we, the Cree people, will not accept the risks and burdens of uranium exploration, mining, milling, waste emplacement and other uranium activities in Eeyou Istchee.

The Cree Nation has never consented to the mining claims made by uranium companies across our territory. We were never even asked.

We Crees have governed and invested in Eeyou Istchee for many thousands of years. Eeyou investment in our territory exceeds the recent expenditures of mining companies by many orders of magnitude. With the Permanent Moratorium, we are taking the necessary steps to protect our “investment” – and our way of life, our health, and the environment of Eeyou Istchee, for generations to come. Eeyou Istchee is rich in many resources other than uranium. We Crees are open to the sustainable and equitable development of these resources – but not at any cost to our health and well-being, long after the mining companies have gone home or gone out of business.

TN: What happens if the province disagrees with you?

GC: The Cree people, the Grand Council and I have never shied away from a fight to protect Cree rights. If necessary, we are ready to defend Cree rights again! But as soon as the unacceptable risks of uranium mining and uranium waste become known to ordinary Quebecers, I believe that the government of Quebec will come to its senses and enact its own moratorium without a fight, as happened in British Columbia.

TN: It seems that Strateco here is trying to reassure its investors that this project will in fact happen. Do you have anything you would like to say to the investors?

GC: My answer to Strateco and its investors is the same one I would give to Quebec and to Canada. The Cree Nation, the Grand Council and I will take all necessary steps to assert and protect Cree rights. My advice to Strateco and its investors is to join us in mining other minerals in Eeyou Istchee, and to give up on mining uranium – not just in Eeyou Istchee but everywhere.