One way to determine the success of an event is whether or not it sells out every available hotel in the surrounding area. Much to the great pleasure of Chantal Hamelin, Liason Officier with the Secretariat to the Cree Nation – Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance, the “Building the North” mining conference, held in Val-d’Or on May 31 and June 1, managed to exhaust the city’s supply of rooms in hotels, motels and beds-and-breakfasts.

“It was very well attended!” laughs Hamelin. “With over 400 delegates, it was a bit of a logistical problem to set everyone up with a place to stay. It was quite something to manage.”

But squeezed accommodations aside, Hamelin described the “Building the North” conference as a resounding success.

“Everyone was very happy about the event,” she said. “It was a really good experience. We had the pleasure to unite the Cree Nation of Quebec with Crees from Ontario, with Inuits from Labrador and Nunavik, and Innu from Labrador, along with people from across the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and James Bay regions.”

The conference, whose central focus was on mining in the North, was set up to cultivate networking and business links between the Cree Nation and other northern communities to encourage wide community involvement in mining activities.

Organized with the help of the Cree Mineral and Exploration Board (CMEB) – whose director Jack R. Blacksmith was co-president of the event – the conference was also partnered with the Grand Council of the Crees and the City of Val-d’Or. All parties worked together, said Hamelin, to make sure the event met the needs of the Cree Nation in particular.

Among the highlights of the speakers who addressed the conference, she said, was Cree Nation attorney John Paul Murdoch.

“He really set the tone for the whole experience, talking about Cree mineral policy. He explained that people who want to do exploration and mining in the Cree territory need to get to know the Cree Nation at its base. They need to know Cree mineral policy, and also to know what vision Crees have in regard to development. They’re for development, not against it, but they want development with participation, so they get a say in their own development.”

Other speakers included Michel Jébrak, Chair of Mining Entrepreneurship at UQAT and UQAM, who discussed the possibilities of mineral development in the Nunavik and James Bay areas.

“He explained,” said Hamelin, “that we can expect to find much more than what we see on maps right now.”

Also featured was Brent Denniston, Director of Non-Renewable Resources for the Nunatsiavut Inuit Nation of Labrador.

“We met Brent and his colleagues at the Northern Lights conference in February,” Hamelin explained, “and that showcases what’s so good about these events: they link people together all across the North.”

Denniston spoke about Inuit initiatives to share projects in their community exploiting uranium – certainly a controversial subject, though one that Denniston discussed in terms of the process and consultations that led to what his government felt was an acceptable balance of risk and opportunity.

Waswanipi Chief Paul Gull discussed the new partnership his nation is in the process of arranging with mining company Metanor to develop a goldmine north of Waswanipi. Gull spoke about his new relationship with the company, and about the process of participating in a partnership that is on the cusp of signing an Impact and Benefit Agreement (IBA).

Finally, former Grand Chief Ted Moses – now president of the Cree Nation – Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance – stepped in to give the speech that Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come had prepared for the occasion, before he was prevented from attending by scheduling conflicts.

Equally important as the speeches, said Hamelin, is the panel of discussions about joint ventures related to mining, co-enterprises, partnerships and alliances in the mining industry.

“It really showed the dynamic that has been happening in the Cree Nation for many years,” she said. “For over 10 years now, we’ve seen companies being created like EnviroCree, Niskan from Oujé-Bougoumou, Wemindji Explorations and Creeco, who are in a new partnership with Dumas Mining. They were all there, and their counterparts were there as well, explaining how they got together and why they got together, and talking about how partnership can bring you further. The goal of all of this is bringing expertise and employment into communities.”

In closing, Hamelin said the greatest success of the conference was its ability to bring together people from different nations, backgrounds and areas.

“People of the North getting to know one another to do business in the North – basically, that’s what it’s all about: fostering links and making them stronger and stronger. That’s my mission,” said Hamelin.