Some Mistissini residents are concerned about a decision by management of the Inmet Mining Corporation to restrict the use of the Cree language at its Troilus mine.

Crees make up a quarter of the 289 employees at the mine, located 175 kilometres north of Chibougamau.

The company says it’s making the move for safety reasons. The restriction on Cree doesn’t apply in the whole mine, but only to the use of radios in the mine pit, said Robert Baribeau, the company’s Cree coordinator.

“It’s not an official policy. It’s a request,” explained Baribeau. “The company asked (employees) for safety reasons to work in English as much as possible so everyone can understand.

He said the radio was being abused for non-work purposes. “Some employees were using the radios to chat. In an emergency, the foreman can’t get on the radio. We asked them to limit their language to work topics. (The radios) are not telephones.”

Crees are over half the employees in the pit.

Baribeau said Inmet is very Cree-positive and has tried to promote the Cree way of life: “The point of it was never to eliminate the Cree language.” French employees are being asked the same thing – to speak English on the radio in the pit.

But one letter-writer to The Nation from Mistissini described the restriction on Cree as “atrocious.”

“Is it not any person’s right to use what-ever language they wish to at their workplace? Sure, the mine should be commended for its efforts to provide French classes to the English and Crees, and English classes to the French and Crees, but let us not forget the third most predominant language at this work site.

“Maybe, the French and English could be educated about our language. Why not? Instead of living in a world of paranoia, why not live in a world of euphoria?” asked the letter-writer, who wanted to remain anonymous.

The developments at Troilus also trouble Sam Etapp, a Mistissini band representative on an implementation committee that meets regularly with the Toronto-based mining company.

Etapp doesn’t buy the company’s safety argument: “I tend not to believe it.”

He said it’s more likely that non-Cree employees at the mine were complaining about the use of Cree.

“In the beginning, there was a lot of tension because of that, especially from French people. Over time, they accepted it. But now, it’s news to me that they’re going back to that,” he said.

Etapp said that during the initial negotiations with Inmet, the community struggled to convince the company to allow the use of Cree at the work site.

There was concern not only for the Cree workers, but also for the local hunters and trappers who live near the site.

In the end, Inmet agreed to make the mine a trilingual workplace, Etapp said: “We wanted to make sure there was no discrimination.”