The Plan Nord is off and running as far as the mining industry is concerned. New roads are slated to open up Eeyou Istchee like a can of sweet peaches. Everyone is looking to get a share of the potential windfalls the roads will bring. The mining companies near those roads will see their costs drop by about one third. Local businesses and companies are looking to provide services, goods and expertise. Jobs, training and economic benefits to local communities are expected. Government tax collectors and economists are happier than pigs in… ah… manure. Crees are jumping on the bandwagon looking for their share of the pie in all aspects of the mining and support industries.

From out of the woodwork the environmental businesses have appeared aggressively selling their wares, expertise and services. They used to be stuck in a broom closet somewhere but there is room for them these days. It seems almost every company looking to explore, drill or open mines in the James Bay talks about environmental and social acceptability and how they want to be a part of it. Everyone selling equipment, goods or services are joining the crowd because they won’t be in business long if they don’t.

Even the Quebec government is in on the act as Raymond Bachand, Minister of Finance and Minister of Revenue, said, “In this regard, Bill 14, an act on the development of mineral resources in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, which would amend the current Mining Act, was submitted to the National Assembly on May 12, 2011. This bill proposes the filing of a financial guarantee by the mining companies, which cover 100% of restoration costs of the entire mine site.” Not to say there wasn’t another bill that would ensure Quebec government coffers wouldn’t benefit from the possible rewards but the times they are changing.

On May 22, 48e Nord International President Guillaume Marquis said the new prospects in the north were an exciting opportunity for them. “With what we have lined up, our relationship with Cree and the Grand Council of the Cree Nation has changed which has made this quite an exciting partnership.”

Former Grand Chief Ted Moses echoed Marquis’ hopes and said, “The Cree have supported the Paix des Braves and now we will throw our support behind the Plan Nord. We have a great opportunity with 48e International and the mining companies to solidify our alliance.”

This was said at a cocktail gathering during the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) conference in Montreal. The event brought more than 400 equipment and service providers together to showcase their companies. 48e Nord International alone had the mandate to promote all companies in Abitibi-Témiscamengue as well as the rest of Quebec that were interested to sell goods and services to outside markets coming into the region. They currently represent about 60 companies.

You can tell that a lot of planning and deals were made in preparation for the announcement of the Plan Nord. Already 48e Nord has 10 joint ventures with as many mining companies. They are creating a curriculum for new training programs for Jamesiens, Crees and Inuit to ensure a local workforce is ready and qualified to meet the needs of the mining industry.

The conference itself was quite educational. Not only were there companies selling pipes, drilling equipment, mining vehicles, safety equipment and other traditional mining paraphernalia but also new technologies. Neomet Technologies Inc. promised a new process that would have lower environmental impacts with cyanide-free processing, inert tailing, no atmospheric emissions and zero chemical waste. And this list wouldn’t be complete without adding that their process is said to be energy efficient and simple to use. It was even profitable for low-grade ores they claimed. This Quebec-based company will even give you a free no-obligation scoping test on ore samples.

A trusted supplier for many a Cree fire department, Wajax offered its expertise, services and equipment to the booming potential of the Plan Nord.

But enough about the companies as we will add other mining industry profiles towards the end. Excitement was in the air and it just wasn’t the free concert by Dennis DeYoung (lead singer of Styx) that had everyone rocking. After all, when that can of peaches was opened everyone wanted a taste of the sweet life the Plan Nord offered on the chance to realize the North’s potential.

Eight days later, there was a Symposium Mines Baie-James 2011 in Chibougamau. This was co-hosted by Chibougamau Mayor Manon Cyr and Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio. Both talked about cooperation and how that was responsible for making this event possible. “This symposium provides an opportunity to exchange and understand each other’s perspective and aspirations. Chibougamau and Mistissini have come a long way,” said Shecapio.

Shecapio said it was an ongoing process that would encompass more than just the mining sector. However he expressed concerns about the relationships. “Many have encountered positive outcomes, positive benefits but there are those who have encountered or experienced negative situations.”

He said that in any dealings all parties involved would have to look at what benefits each would receive as well the potential negative impacts. “These are issues we all have to take into consideration,” said Shecapio.

Shecapio said during the planning of the symposium everyone put aside their differences and chose to work together. “As we all know the James Bay, Eeyou Istchee represents a great potential for development,” said Shecapio. He felt this was why it was important to talk to other chiefs and the mayors as in the end they had a common goal. “For sure there will be potential benefits on all sides,” said Shecapio, indicating that both Jamesiens and Crees were taking important steps forward to establish real relationships. He said he appreciated that Cyr understood the importance of Cree traditions.

Shecapio said Mistissini wants to enjoy the benefits of development but traditions also mean protecting the land and that will continue. “I am not saying that we are against any kind of development, but this is an area that both sides are going to have to understand,” said Shecapio.

He added that any relationship must be built on strong foundations of mutual trust, benefit and growth. Understanding each other with those foundations constantly being strengthened would lead to everyone working together for a good future is part of Shecapio’s dream.

Understanding the history will give you an idea of the potential in James Bay. In the area around Chibougamau and Chapais, the mines in the past extracted 4.1 million ounces of gold ($6,205,555,000, today’s prices), 12.8 million ounces of silver ($459,648,000) and 2.7 billion pounds of copper ($10,719,000,000) and this isn’t even counting the zinc, cobalt or nickel mined. That’s a lot of money and economic boosts that never really saw the light of day in the North. In the North, we know communities like Val-d’Or, Chibougamau, Matagami and Amos more-or-less owe their existence to the mines as they grew up around them. People moved to these areas to find jobs.

That was the way my father met my mother. Yes, Ken Nicholls worked in some mine in the Chibougamau area. A couple of his brothers did too and I understand dad not only had to break some heads to spend a little quality time with mom (hey Chibougamau was a little rough back then and mom was cute) but he had to embrace the life and culture of the Cree. Those were the days when Chibougamau Joe and the Cree chapter of the Black Panthers swagger and/or staggered down the main street depending on how full or perhaps empty their wallets were. Back then few, if any, Crees were employed by the mines or saw any real benefits or business opportunities. With the mines and their workers driving away or killing game and traditionally productive areas felt an environmental impact akin to salting the earth. Nothing could survive there and in more than a few cases men went to mine cafeterias to ask for leftovers in order for their families to eat.

Today, this is changing as Crees not only have options but the past is being dealt with. The effects of former mines on the land, wildlife and people are finally being dealt with. Remedial measures are finally underway as a result of the Oujé-Bougoumou people never giving up on wanting something done about the effects of past mines. As you will read, this is starting and will continue.

New measures by Quebec have been lawfully enacted so the earlier practices will be a thing of the past. It is promising that monies will be put aside into trust accounts to ensure 100% restoration.

One can see the mining industry is quite aware of their reputation as pillagers of Mother Earth grasping at profit above all else. Most of the industries these days have no desire to be labelled this way anymore. Social acceptability is the new buzzword and it’s the standard spin doctors have been told to promote. Even with a grain of salt when a company makes good on its word and agreement by living up to the promises made between developer and community you know there is the possibility of substance to the mining industry’s claims.

Inmet Mining Corporation is a prime example a true relationship when they more than fulfilled the agreement they negotiated with Mistissini. The percentage of Crees trained and employed at the Troilus mine was substantially higher than what was agreed. A portion of mines revenues was put aside as to ensure proper restoration to the affected area before Quebec made it a law. Perhaps it only seems it took a long while for their success story to create a new momentum. Social acceptability also meant social responsibility to the community you lived and operated in. These days, the government and the mining industry seem to have adopted those values and have not only taken them to heart but also made them part of the rule of law here in Quebec.

The future will tell whether the laws have substance. With the acceptance of the mining industry’s advance into the Cree Nation’s traditional lands comes one important concession. It is the creation of a regional government composed of the former members of the Municipality of Baie-James and the Cree communities. Having a say in how things are run in the Cree homeland is nothing to sneer at. With chiefs like Mistissini’s Shecapio looking at both the benefits and negative impacts on Cree tradition gives all Crees hope that while the door is open it’s by invitation only.

Waswanipi Chief Paul Gull took time to applaud the Plan Nord and its potentials. He said he was proud that the Cree communities and James Bay municipalities worked together to organize the symposium and that the week previous to the event Quebec and the Crees signed a new framework agreement that would lead to still more collaboration between everyone.

Lebel-sur-quivillon Mayor Gerald Lamoyne said his community was on-board with working with the Cree. He talked about the “amazing potentials for the mining industry” as they would be exploring one of the most promising areas in the world. “The North is different from the South. We are more favourable to the industry,” said Lamoyne. He added that the Jamesiens and the Crees will have to work together to ensure “the benefits and rewards stay in our communities.”

The rewards as Patrick Houle, a geologist for the Ministry of Natural Resources, said are more than just the profits but the growth of the region. It didn’t mean Houle ignored the potential as he admitted Goldcorp’s Éléonore project could be one of the biggest goldmines in the world when it was up-and running. Houle said the Quebec Labour Association forecasted a need for more qualified people to work in the mines than there are in the current labour pool. Many companies and a few schools said they were tooling up to train and educate interested workers. Guidance counsellors should be checking out the possibilities on this employment sector.

Cyr acknowledged that Chibougamau was started by mining exploration and mining. She said, “Social responsibility is an issue. You cannot build mines the same way you did 40 years ago.” Cyr added though that socially acceptable mining would not be a problem for her community.

Cree leadership agree with those sentiments. On June 1, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come made clear the Cree stance when he said, “Our position in that no mining developments may occur in Eeyou Istchee unless they are socially acceptable to the Cree communities, as demonstrated by the conclusion of agreements with our communities. The Crees must be active partners, not just passive bystanders, in these developments.”

Coon Come said the Cree cooperated in the planning and implementation of the Plan Nord because they support sustainable development. “The Crees are open for business provided that it respects our rights and the environment and produces real benefits for our people,” said Coon Come.

He knows people will question the Cree position asking whether they want to protect the land or develop it. Coon Come said it is both. Cree culture and identity are tied to the land and wildlife but development is required to create jobs and economic opportunities. Both are needed to grow as a people and as a nation. Coon Come said there is a very real link between economic development and the reform of governance in Eeyou Istchee. “Without good governance, there can be no durable economic development. And without economic development, governance is an empty exercise,” said Coon Come.

Coon Come said the Cree Nation Mining Policy is already part of a collaboration agreement with Goldcorp and they are talking with the Stornoway Diamond Corporation to have them respect the policy. His message was the Cree are “open for business and we are reliable partners.”

With all the hugs, kisses and promises of working together Coon Come was happy to announce a new regional government composed of Cree and Jamesien community representatives that would replace the Municipality of Baie-James. No longer would an ethnic or racial divide be such a huge bone of contention when decisions affected all of James Bay. Coon Come said Crees desire a new partnership with the former members of MBJ. “We are neighbours, and we share common hopes for a future vibrant with creativity and opportunities for our children and their children,” said Coon Come.

He said the Crees and Jamesiens will be working together in a governance structure for the first time. Coon Come liked that saying, “We are at the start of a great adventure, a shared journey.” He said the Cree are used to challenges and he knew our neighbours were up to them as well. “The Jamesiens are equally ready to embrace the challenge of working with us to create something new, something better, something we can hand on to our children with pride,” said Coon Come.
Plan Nord player profiles

Guy Belleau, of Opinaca Mines Ltd and Goldcorp, let us all know that Goldcorp was the biggest producer of gold in the world. “We’re a large company with high aspirations,” said Belleau. His company was interested in growth but this also meant people, health and community growth. “We want a win-win situation,” he said.

The company took risks to make this happen said Belleau pointing out that they spent $800 million “before we even knew we had a mine.” He called the experience of the Éléonore gold project in the James Bay penetrating the impenetrable. Currently they have sunk a 600-metre shaft and this fall will see the construction of an 800-metre deep production shaft. Goldcorp estimates that it will cost them around $400 an ounce to produce the gold. With gold currently running at $1500-plus per ounce, the profits are enormous.

So is job creation for the 14-year lifespan of this mine. An estimated 1500 jobs are needed for building and operations. That will drop later to 1000 jobs during production. Goldcorp promises contracts will be more favourable to northern suppliers and services providers. They say they will leave less of an environmental footprint as mine waste-water will be refilterated. Even the concerns of Wemindji on water and interference with the goose hunt have been addressed.

“Social acceptability is a moral license to operate. Today the industry doesn’t have a choice. Social acceptability is part of the criteria in today’s society,” said Belleau. The Éléonore mine will see an additional $1.4 billion invested in developing the deposit making it a development many will want to be a part of. The project also accepted living up to the standards, conditions and limitations of the Cree Mining Policy.

This is why Wemindji signed a deal with them and say they are happy about it. Mark Wadden, Wemindji’s Liason Officer on the Éléonore project, said the community was “part of something right from the beginning. We’re not trying to knock on doors after everything has been signed. We, the Cree, were part of the development from the start. We are actually helping plan the mine itself. We actually have a big contract right now.

“Tawich, our local Cree construction company, is doing the underground explorations. Tawich has about 80% Cree on the site. Just to give you an idea, when we were building the wastepad we had about 85% Crees working on that contract and they [filled positions] from top management to truck drivers. Of course, some people we had to bring in, like engineers for technical expertise. But for the most part it’s all Cree. So we’re in there, we’re getting some nice contracts and a lot of training done. About five Wemindji youth are working on the ramp itself so we have [local] youth miners. It’s a collaboration agreement, the name says it all,” said Wadden.

Matagami Mayor René Dubé was enthusiastic but said, “If we’re getting married then we must talk and plan together” to the mining industry members attending the Symposium Mines Baie-James. He said the northern communities have to know their needs clearly so “we can supply you and offer the services you need.”

Dubé said, “If you come to our area know that citizens are at the heart of our concerns. We want you to hire people from our area and we want workers that will stay.” He asked what was needed to create a qualified workforce in the James Bay territory. Dubé wanted to see less youth leaving because of opportunities elsewhere and workers that have to be brought in to become residents. “Consider our region your ally,” he said, adding that “nobody is better qualified to really know our territory whether it is the Cree or Jamesiens.” He called for a committee to look at how to maximized benefits so everyone would win. “Social acceptability means partnerships,” said Dubé .

Jean-Pierre Lachance, Executive and Exploration Vice President of Strateco Resources Inc., admitted to a down turn in the company’s financial picture. He said before the problems with the nuclear reactor in Japan stock was selling at around $3.50 a share but since then it has fallen to 50¢-60¢ a share. Lachance is counting on the fact that there are 440 nuclear reactors in operation around the world, 60 under construction and there are 140 on order. He said the road into the Otish Mountains, north of Mistissini, will really open up the land to new discoveries and lessen costs for all parties involved.

Another uranium developer is Cameco Inc., whose representative Alexandre Aubin said their deposits aren’t as great as Strateco’s find. They also haven’t the same problems as Strateco and there are rumours a deal may be in the works between the two companies. Cameco is looking to cut down on costs by doing such things as sharing helicopters and other services and supplies with all the different exploration and mining companies in the area. He stressed the need for more government support and educating the public on what is trying to be achieved. “We need to believe in this project,” he said.

At the moment, Cogitore Resources Inc. is still in the exploration phase. They are examining sulphides created by volcanic actions (many, many moons ago). New studies indicate a high possibility of copper and gold. One of their sites estimates 167,000 ounces of gold could be extracted.

Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. is looking at the Lac Line region just north of Chibougamau.

Blackrock Metals Inc. is currently assessing the mineral potential of the Dore Lake region. One site might be in production as early as 2013. They are currently negotiating with Chinese steelmakers on a distribution agreement. They wish to become a partner in a ferrovanadium plant. They are keeping an eye on the vanadium battery market and what the steel industry might need.

Perilya Ltd., an Australian-based company, is looking at the potential of lithium deposits 110 km north of Chibougamau. Perilya’s Managing Director, Paul Arndt, said the results of its exploration “provides a strong platform to evaluate the potential development of the Moblan project. Moblan provides a tremendous opportunity for Perilya to diversify into another commodity segment at a time when lithium demand growth is being driven by battery storage for electric vehicles and other industrial uses.” SOQUEM, a Quebec crown corporation, owes 40% of the potential. Perilya’s major shareholder is Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet Company, which has links to the battery industry in China, which is an area of significant growth for lithium. They are looking at the feasibility of an open-pit mine and carrying out the environmental assessment for the project.

Western Troy Capital Resources Inc. is in 100% control of the MacLeod Lake molybdenuim-copper project. Located 275 km north of Chibougamau near the Eastmain River. The proposed open-pit mine is expected to be around 9.4 years and provide employment for 235 people. The new road into the Otish Mountain area makes this an attractive possibility for the company. They hope to have all the necessary permits to begin mine construction in 2012 but expect it may take as long as until 2013.

Virginia Mines Inc. has been active in Quebec for the past 15 years. They are eager to talk to the Cree and want a long lasting relationship.

The Start of Social Acceptability

Aquatech promises customized service that means getting the job done right. They deal in quality-driven solutions that are environmentally responsible.

Basically pumping services extend to construction, mining, municipal and industrial sectors, including emergency pumping, dewatering, storm/surface water pumping, sewage bypass pumping, creek/river bypass pumping, industrial pumping, drilling, water main testing and flushing, environmental services and equipment rental and sales for all specialized pump, generator and discharge filtration equipment.
Asinii Drilling

Additional reporting by Akiva Levitas

Founded in 2010, Asinii Drilling has opened the door for Natives to work with Natives in the mining industry. The company’s focus currently is in the domain of mineral exploration. With all the investment in the natural resource industry in northern Quebec, the demand for drillers is sure to rise. Asinii Drilling was established in order to take advantage of this opportunity to showcase Native talent and be a part of the expected windfall.

President and co-founder Michel Lacasse started the company with Johanne Lacasse in order to bring a Native company onto the mining industry scene. With a combined experience close to 50 years in the drilling industry between Lacasse and Dino Peluso, Asinii Drilling has what it takes to flourish in this competitive market.

The company has for a focus the goal of training and employing Natives to the diamond drilling industry. In doing this, Asinii Drilling provides Native youth with platform to launch their careers in the mining industry. Asinii Drilling is setting its sights on getting contracts in the North with proximity to both the Native communities and the natural resources. In doing this, they are providing the youth in the surrounding towns the opportunity to participate in a fast-growing local industry.

It has only been a year and already Asinii Drilling has got some big plans ahead. In March 2011, new partners were added to the Asinii team providing valuable experience for this industry, such as business and financial managing as well as the manufacturing and maintenance of Diamond Drills.

In the drilling industry Val-d’Or is known to have the best hydraulic diamond drills on the market so it’s no wonder that Asinii Drilling has four of them currently in use. In the next 12 months, Asinii Drilling is planning to increase the number to 10 drills. At this rate, the amount of people they will be training will be growing as well.

Although the company is relatively young, the experience of its founders along with the new partners enables Asinii Drilling to be a competitive force in the industry. Along with the financial gains, the benefits of the training and work experience will prove to be more valuable than gold for the next generation.