Environmental protection, sacred land, fears of water contamination and feeling the ends justifying the means were some of the reasons Crees gave for why they didn’t want to see the development of an exploration ramp.

However, the folks over at Strateco, who are adamant to get the project off the ground, have their own opinion as to why the community of Mistissini isn’t so keen on seeing uranium exploration happen within the Otish Mountains region.

In recent weeks the COFEX-south committee released its ruling on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) submitted by Strateco last year, giving the project a step forward that would take Strateco closer to getting its mining exploration ramp. Since the 2010 release of the EIS, there have been hearings in Mistissini and nearby Chibougamau so that the locals, the government bodies and the company could get their say out.

Now, with the COMEX provincial report and judgments pending on whether Strateco should get its licensing to proceed, the company finds itself in quite a conundrum: how to make the project socially acceptable to a community of Crees that largely opposes it?

According to Jean-Pierre Lachance, Strateco’s Executive & Exploration Vice-President, gaining public support is a simple matter of putting the right information out there, because hey, who wouldn’t want a uranium project on their traditional territory?

“Nobody is perfect but we have worked quite a bit since 2006 to inform the population, but maybe we did not do this the right way. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on the leaders instead of the community, despite the fact that we had a focus group in 2008,” explained Lachance.

Looking back at the past few years, Lachance said Strateco has made many attempts to sell the idea of getting this project under way to the Crees, but that perhaps too much of the focus has been on the leadership of the community and on the focus groups that the company managed to set up.

Lachance stated that it is Strateco’s view now that perhaps they did not disseminate the information in a way that the average community member would be able to grasp the company’s vision when it comes to uranium exploration and eventual mining.

“Now we are reopening the dialogue with the community and in the near future, like in September, we are expecting to go back into the community to explain the project, but also to get the concerns of people from a focus group. We have found out that it is better to go and talk to various groups.

“For example, groups like the Cree Trapline Association. They are very important for the land and the environment, they are the next step to get closer to the community, not only the leaders but the community itself,” said Lachance.

While the Nation tried to tell Lachance he was most likely referring to the Cree Trappers’ Association, Lachance paid no heed to any of the Nation’s clarifications throughout the course of the interview.

Lachance also seemed quite unconvinced when it came to the community’s outright opposition to seeing the Otish Mountains developed for a uranium project. While the Nation pressed that the community has already said it does not want the project and does not want to see a uranium project for any amount of money, Lachance continued to maintain that the community is simply lacking information.

When asked how Strateco was planning on dealing with the community remaining unswayable when it came to the project for any sum of compensation, he stated, “I respect what you are saying but it is not that the entire community doesn’t want it. I think that what we have here is a lack of information.”

Lachance then began to describe a trip that some of the families who claim the Matoush traplines took to visit the community of Rabbit Lake in Saskatchewan whose land has also been developed for uranium mining.

“They have been living there and they are still healthy and so eventually what is good for the community is not bad within itself. When it gets down to it, the more people that visit the mine and the communities around, this is what needs to be done.

“We can understand that the community is going to hear us and they are going to say ‘Of course, you are the proponent – you are going to say this and that.’ But we want to go further than this, getting closer to the people and opening up a dialogue,” said Lachance.

According to Lachance, this Saskatchewan trip was also about showing the Crees that the government departments in charge of controlling the mining industry can keep people living nearby safe.

“They need to see what is going on because all we have here is Strateco the proponent and on the other hand you have the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) who is like their God and they are next to each other and this is the most controlled mining industry.

“You can’t fool around with the CNSC because they will close down everything and this is only for an underground exploration project,” he added.

When prompted again to respond to how the company was planning on addressing a community that does not want the project, Lachance rebutted with how it is just a portion of the community that doesn’t want the project. At that, there will always be some who will hold out against the project but his implication was that they were a faction group and not the majority of the community.

Lachance said this despite the fact that the community, its Chief, Richard Shecapio, and even the Grand Council of the Crees had stated numerous times that Mistissini doesn’t want the project.

“First of all they are only a portion of these people, they are a part of the community… With any kind of project, not just mining or whatever, it is impossible to get everyone to agree. There are always going to be those that are against it and that has to be respected but maybe or most probably the people that you have talked to are against this project. But we have talked to some Elders or some leaders of some Elders at the Cree Trapline Association and it’s not important. I won’t mention their name, but this person is a leader.

“We talked to them to look at the project on the side, he was not in favour of the project at the beginning, but he has an open mind and he was very vocal and told us that the Crees just wanted to make sure that the environment wasn’t disturbed in the sense of the water. The water there is the essence, it is the whole thing, and they wanted to know how we are going to deal with this,” said Lachance.

When it came to the actual reasoning for why Strateco suspects Crees oppose the project, Lachance suggested that what Crees believe about uranium itself to be completely outdated and therefore frightening to them. But, Strateco believes it’s nothing a little education from them can’t resolve.

“When you don’t know about something and you hear about what happened in the past in the 1950s, wow, it is scary, everybody naturally will be scared. But then, there is a bright side of the moon and a dark side of the moon and so there is a bright side of going with nuclear energies and it is a good energy,” said Lachance.

As for the allegation that Strateco has been telling the media and potential investors in Europe that everyone involved is behind the project, Lachance said it was everybody else that got it wrong and not the company.

The Nation has stated in previous issues that according to a December 23 advertisement released by Cornis Consult Finance of Geneva, Switzerland, calling on interested parties to attend a lunch in London, England in January 2011 with Strateco President Guy Hébert to find out more about the Matoush Project, it was implied that the community supported the project. The announcement stated: “On Nov. 26, 2010, Strateco announced that it has received strong support from all the parties involved in the public hearings held in Quebec in this matter.”

In response to this, Lachance explained that it was really others who merely misinterpreted the company but that they had made good since in regards to this.

“This was done wrong and I guess I remember that Guy Hébert, our CEO, sent a letter, well, not to apologize but I think to the Grand Chief or the Grand Council because he never really said this. It was interpreted as this and I think that this was not good.”

As for the Grand Council of the Crees and the moratorium it has called for on uranium mining within Mistissini territory, Lachance also chalks this up to the GCC not having the right information. For, if they did, there wouldn’t be a moratorium.

While Lachance continuously argued that it is only those who are uninformed about uranium production who would oppose it, when asked if this belief prevailed when it came to the GCC, who have access to the best experts and specialists, Lachance was certain that the GCC would change its mind once properly informed.

“We have not yet had the opportunity to meet with the members of the Grand Council and explain the project in terms of where we are going and what we are doing. It is a must, otherwise of course there is a moratorium as it is normal to ask for a moratorium if you are not well informed,” said Lachance.

And so, while Lachance has said Strateco may have failed at getting its message and vision across to the Crees, never fear, the company will be stepping up these efforts in the coming months.

As for the project itself, more information is being anticipated within the coming weeks on whether Strateco will be receiving its licensing to proceed with the exploration ramp.