Ouje-Bougoumou’s battle over heavy metal toxins entering the area’s watershed through mine tailing ponds is getting political attention south of the border. The Sentinel of Keene, New Hampshire reported May 16 that U.S. Senator John Sununu “has taken on the Quebec Cree cause.”
Senator Sununu has written a letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest that raises several issues on behalf of the Ouje-Bougoumou Crees, especially the mining contamination at O-J and the surrounding regions of Northern Quebec. In the letter, Sununu acknowledges that a preliminary report had been released, but the final report, due a year ago, is still being kept secret by the Quebec government.
Sununu requested both the final report and Charest’s comments concerning the release of the report.
Senator John Sununu said he became interested in the issue when New Hampshire voters brought it to his attention in 2001. That’s when he met with the late Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith, then the Ouje-Bougoumou First Nation environmental officer, and New Hampshire resident Chris Covel, a licensed professional geologist. At the time, Covel and Blacksmith asked for Sununu’s assistance in pursuing their investigation of mining contaminants in the water and soil near Ouje-Bougoumou.
Sununu was intrigued and asked the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if the agency could offer technical assistance. In January of 2002, Sununu received a reply from EPA offering further resources to Covel.
In February of 2005, Covel revived Sununu’s interest by bringing a rough cut of Rezolution Pictures’ Heavy Metal: A Mining Disaster in Northern Quebec to Sununu’s Portsmouth, N.H. office. The video is a documentary revolving around Blacksmith’s and Covel’s efforts to expose the mining contamination in Ouje-Bougoumou and Northern Quebec and their unsuccessful efforts to have the problem addressed by the provincial government.
Crees concerned about this issue are hoping Sununu will also help bring it to the attention of the United Nations. Sununu is the United States congressional delegate to the UN.
“I was fortunate to have met Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith, and he impressed me with his commitment to his family and culture,” he told the Keane Sentinel. “Moreover, as a public servant, he reinforced the importance of working tirelessly for those you care for and standing strongly behind the issues you believe in. At the request of New Hampshire resident Chris Covel and constituents who have asked me to pursue this issue, I have facilitated the exchange of information and resources that I hope will be useful in addressing this case.”
Covel has told the Nation he plans to be around for as long as it takes to clean up the heavy metal toxins problem in Ouje-Bougoumou. “It’s about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s that simple for me,” said Covel on his continued interest in the issue.
The New Hampshire story mentions that fish in the area have “turned up deformed, finless, and eyeless, covered in sores.”
The initial testing only sampled from three mines out of 33 and the results were unsettling. One lab worker said that in the 20 years he has tested soil samples these ones had the highest amounts of arsenic he had ever seen.
Sununu’s office has received numerous letters to date on this issue and welcome more. Letters should be sent to:
Office of U.S. Senator John E. Sununu
One New Hampshire Avenue, Suite 120
Portsmouth, NH 03801