The Mecheshoo Agreement between the nation of Mistissini and Stornoway Diamond Corporation was signed on March 27, laying the groundwork for the company’s Renard Diamond Project. It will be the first of its kind in Quebec. Though no hard numbers were released, Mistissini’s chief assured everyone assembled that those most affected would get a fair share of the spoils.
“This is a unique model for cooperation,” said Chief Richard Shecapio of the Cree Nation of Mistissini. “The families of our impacted territory […] will directly benefit from the project.”
Stornoway had agreed to give hiring preference to Crees of the territory, starting with the families closest to the mine and moving outwards. The agreement also has a proviso to help the people of the area with the Mistssini/Renard Training Fund, a set of job-training schemes. The company will also auction contracts every year for Cree entrepreneurs to bid upon, with everything from supply to chain to maintenance presumably on offer while the mine is in operation.
The major players met at Mistissini’s sports centre to conclude the agreement. Over a hundred locals packed the main hall to witness the signing and hear more about the project. Among the notables were members of the Swallow family of Mistissini’s M11 territory, from whose trapline the diamonds will be unearthed. Stornoway made promises to the area’s talleymen that they will be consulted before the crucial spring goose and fall moose hunting seasons to determine no-fly zones and exclusion areas.
The Swallow family Elders opened the signing ceremony with a bilingual benediction – the hundred or so in attendance stood reverently while representatives of the media flitted about capturing the moment.
Also present at the side of Shecapio were Eeyou Istchee Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and Stornoway CEO Matt Manson. A speech was given by each, and the deal was then set in stone with a few strokes of a pen. It was a formality that had resulted from years of negotiations.
A multi-million dollar feasibility study concluded late last year that tens of billions of dollars in diamonds are locked in the earth in M11 territory. If all goes to plan, the first shiny lumps of sparkly compressed carbon will leave the mine in three years.
Stornoway’s CEO promised to integrate Cree at all levels of the business, from mining to top brass. Benefits for all of Eeyou, especially those of Mistissini and the families of M11 territory in particular, were positioned as key components of the agreement. It also pledges to provide other benefits directly to Cree employees, including polling stations during Cree elections, as well as both goose and moose breaks as part of paid vacations. Though hunting and fishing are prohibited around the mine’s safety zone, the families of M11 will be allowed to continue to catch animals so long as the traps themselves are small.
As Stornoway’s feasibility study estimated there to be about $25 billion worth of diamonds in the area around the Otish Mountains, the cash benefits to the over 4000 people of Mistissini stand to be quite substantial. If there were any naysayers standing against the Mecheshoo Agreement, they did not make their voices heard that day. The company and the council of Mistissini are forming a committee composed of locals and Stornoway execs to oversee any concerns and grievances.
Stornoway’s CEO praised the spirit with which his company was received by the people of Eeyou. He made it clear that even though his company is motivated by profit, they have sought willing partners in the operation.
“In the traditional model [of mineral exploitation], the importance of nature is often forgotten,” said Manson. “We sought a social license. The Cree are our neighbours, employers and employees – they were on the land before we were there and will be there after we’ve left.”
Coon Come reminded the assembled of that fact when he stated that regardless of the circumstances, the diamonds extracted are Cree diamonds. Shecapio echoed that sentiment when he spoke of Cree stewardship of the land.
“[Stornoway] took the time to sit down with us right from the beginning,” he said. “It’s been continuous negotiation and partnership with the people of Mistissini.”