You could hear a pin drop when Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio took the podium on June 5. He was there to tell the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission what the Mistissini Band Council, the Cree Nation of Mistissini and the Cree people of Mistissini decided, not only for Strateco’s exploration plans, but for all uranium exploration and mining in the Mistissini territory.
“I will be clear and I will be firm. There will be no uranium exploration on our traditional land,” said Shecapio, adding, “I can assure the people of Mistissini that I will do whatever it takes to protect our land and our rights.”
Shecapio said this decision was reached after listening to Mistissini Cree people. He welcomed the fact there was a packed auditorium and thank everyone for coming as well as those who participated or would do so at the hearing. “These people are the reason we are here tonight. As a First Nation collectively, they are the guardians of the land and of our distinct identity,” said Shecapio. He thanked the tallymen for their input in coming to Mistissini’s decision.
Shecapio said, “Community members have expressed a great deal of concern about the location of Strateco’s project, for two main reasons. First, the project is located in the Otish Mountain drainage basin and, second, it is in close proximity to the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish (ATO) Park.
“The Otish Mountain drainage basin runs all the way to James Bay passing through Lake Abenal and Mistissini Lake before going into the Rupert’s River. The Otish Mountains are the source of the water that supports our people; it is a sacred place for the Cree. To protect the water we drink we need to be very careful about the kind of development we are willing to allow in these mountains.”
The second concern raised was the 20-plus active uranium exploration projects in that region. They surround the park and many think if the Strateco license is granted it will open the door for the rest of projects in the future. Shecapio said it would negatively affect eco-tourism plans that would bring much needed money and jobs into the community. Some were concerned Eeyou Istchee would become a dump site for spent nuclear waste in the future. Local resident Luke MacLeod said for people in southern Quebec it would be “out of sight, out of mine”.
Shecapio pointed out Mistissini wasn’t against mineral exploration and mining. “We have recently signed an IBA with a mining company and have had a positive long-term partnership with another mining company in the past. The Cree Nation of Mistissini, however, does not believe that uranium development is an activity that is consistent with our role as responsible stewards of this land,” he said.
Shecapio added that in November 2010 the Cree Nation of Mistissini didn’t support the project, and again in 2011 and nothing has changed. “The Cree have already sacrificed a great deal for a source of clean and abundant renewable energy in hydroelectricity,” said Shecapio.
The Grand Council of the Crees has thrown their support behind the community and will be seeking a moratorium on uranium development in the territory. Shecapio said Mistissini joins the over 350 municipalities across Quebec who have called for a ban on uranium mining.
The CNSC staff have recommended that the license be issued for a period of five years.
Shecapio and the Mistissini community may have different ideas though. Shecapio’s presentation ended with, “Finally, I am here today to serve notice that the Cree Nation of Mistissini will do whatever it takes to stop uranium development on our traditional lands. Let it be clear: there will be no uranium exploration on our land.”
Interest in Mistissini’s stance on uranium mining was strong throughout all of Eeyou Istchee. Chisasibi even postponed in radio bingo so community members could hear the nationwide radio broadcast on the Cree Regional Radio.
Many people, not only local residents, gave presentations on this issue to the CNSC. In the next issue of the Nation we will present as many as we can. If you have a comment you can go to nationnews.ca and click on “Talk To Us”.