With the theme “Together Against Uranium”, a combination protest-rally walk and benefit concert brought out some 350 people in Mistissini to express their opposition to the Strateco mining company’s application for a license to carry out advanced uranium exploration.

Occurring on June 4, the day before the three-day set of public hearings on the issue held in Chibougamau by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Council (CNSC), the rally brought people from Mistissini as well as surrounding areas, including Sept-Iles, Minganie and Chibougamau. Protesters set out from the Neoskweskau Complex at 6 pm, before regrouping for the concert at 7:30.

“People came from all over Quebec – it wasn’t just a local event. We were very happy with the turnout,” said Mistissini Youth Chief Shawn Iserhoff, one of the organizers of both events. “People came together for the common cause – the common good. They made their own signs and we went around the community for about a half an hour. There were lots of people who were parked by the side of the road, and other people who couldn’t walk very well, like Elders. They were shouting out in support of us.”

Iserhoff says that organizers decided to pair the rally with a concert both for publicity and to help cover the expenses of maintaining the uranium-opposition project. The night’s entertainment was headlined by the Juno Award-winning Cree rock band CerAmony, who have been vocal in their opposition to uranium mining in Eeyou Istchee and to Premier Jean Charest’s Plan Nord development strategy.

The concert drew between 300 and 350 people, not all of them the same as those who had been in the rally. “Some people went home after the walk,” said Iserhoff. “But then other people came for the concert afterwards.”

There is the possibility that Iserhoff will help organize similar concerts in other towns and cities in Quebec. “That’s something on the table,” he said, “though we don’t have any concrete plan for it so far.”

On behalf of the organizers, Iserhoff expressed gratitude to all the people who came out to support the cause at the rally or at the concert.

It underlines Mistissini’s opposition to uranium mining and uranium exploration on Cree lands.

“Given the public meetings that have been held here,” Iserhoff said, referring to the CNSC hearings in Chibougamau, “it does seem like the majority of people in Mistissini are opposed to the project. Right now, the stance is pretty strong in the community. We want to have development that’s sustainable, but uranium is just something that should be out of the picture. There’s no social acceptance from the community at this point. We hope [that CNSC has] heard our voice.”

The day after the event, at the first day of the CNSC hearings, Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio released a statement of total opposition to the project and called for a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration, both on Cree lands as well as throughout the entire province of Quebec. He stated that the position of the Crees is one of humility, responsibility and stewardship toward the land that has always been theirs and has always been central to their culture, people, traditions and history. Because Crees remain active on the land and continue to hunt, trap and consume animals living in the surrounding areas, the threat of radioactive contamination is far too great for the Chief and council to accept.

Iserhoff, Chief Shecapio and council, and the rest of Mistissini must now wait 30 days for the licensing decisions from the CNSC, as well as for the official Quebec government response. He’s anxious to hear their response, but also points to the clarity of the wording in the COMEX environmental review report for Matoush Uranium Exploration Project.

That report reads, “[Strateco] must obtain the Crees’ consent through the Mistissini Band Council with regard to the project’s social acceptability [and] must enter into a written agreement to that effect with the band council or with another body designated by the band council.”

“In terms of that consent,” said Iserhoff, “Strateco doesn’t have it. It’s been made pretty clear by the band council and the people.”