Ever since the November hearings in Mistissini and Chibougamau over whether or not Strateco Inc. will get the approval from the federal and provincial boards required to pursue their uranium mining exploration project, both sides have been awaiting a verdict with bated breath.

Last November 23 the final hearing over Strateco’s Matoush Project to drill deep into the Otish Mountains on Category 3 land was held in Mistissini. The company is seeking approval to drill a 5×5 metre hole that would run 300 metres down into the Otish Mountains for uranium exploration based on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project that had been submitted for review in early 2010.

During the hearing many community members spoke out against the project as did Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio, various environmental activist groups and a Canadian mining monitoring group.

While community members expressed their deep fears about potential contamination to the Cree traditional traplines and the potential for lingering effects on the environment, the major criticism of the project was that the EIS lacked sufficient data.

“The EIA submitted by Strateco has raised many concerns. Specifically, that baseline data has not been collected thoroughly and does not fully reflect the abundance of wildlife in the area. There are several independent reports that substantiate this claim. The view is, if Strateco could not even take enough care in the preparation of this assessment, will they make the effort when it comes time to implement the measures needed to safeguard the water, plants and animals in and around the Matoush site,” said Shecapio in his statement.

The Grand Council of the Crees also threw their support behind Shecapio via a press release indicating that the GCC would stand behind Shecapio’s decision.

While there is still no ruling on the November 23 hearing held in Mistissini and the subsequent hearing held in Chibougamau, Strateco CEO and President Guy Hébert has continued to aggressively vie for his project.

The Nation reported earlier this year that in January the company held events in London, England and Paris, France to entice new shareholders.

The invitation for the London events on January 25 and 26 stated, “Strateco announced that it has received strong support from all the parties involved in the public hearings held in Quebec in this matter.”

Trying to further its cause with the COMEX /COFEX boards, the Nation recently obtained a letter that Hébert sent January 17 in which he clearly attempts to discredit the opinions expressed in Mistissini in November.

He goes as far to say Mistissini’s claim that residents were not sufficiently informed about the project was untrue because the company had met with community members on over 200 occasions through various means.

“We used various strategies (information pages in newspapers, door-to-door visits, information pamphlets, information sessions, etc…) to explain, in lay terms, uranium exploration and mining, which we concede is a complex issue. We are therefore extremely surprised that none of our initiatives was mentioned, or given any consideration, by the authors of the memorandum of the Cree Nation of Mistissini,” said Hébert in the letter.

In his letter, Hébert also stated that the August 2010 election for a new Chief leading to a transition of power from then Chief John Longchap to Chief Shecapio changed the playing field to the company’s determent. “Meetings were held on several occasions with the former band council and the former Chief of Mistissini. The cooperation established and discussions held led us to believe that our efforts and initiatives were not only being considered, but were also on the right track.”

Chief Shecapio, both at the hearing and many times since then, has spoken passionately about the Cree responsibility to act as stewards to the land and protect it for the many generations of Crees yet to come. His argument against the project has been that it is not in line with this essential Cree value.

Hébert responded to this, arguing that the project was completely in line with the values of the Cree. “We understand that in speaking of traditional principles and knowledge, they are mainly referring to the close relationship they have with their environment. However, we showed through our environmental impact assessment that the underground exploration program would be in line with their principles.”

At this point Hébert lists a series of studies conducted by Strateco that were commented on by experts from the Quebec Department of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks (MDDEP), the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). While Hébert said the studies do meet the standards of these boards and governmental bodies, he complained that the presentations made at the hearing were based only on the “initial data provided” and ignored the “the tremendous work done by Strateco and its consultants to scrutinize and supplement certain pre-identified information and thus meet the extremely strict criteria of the competent authorities.”

In the following two excerpts, Hébert goes on to tell the boards how his company has been treated unfairly by the presentations made at the hearing. It should be noted that Strateco did have the opportunity to present all of the information they so desired at the May information session in 2010.

During the hearing in November, not only did the Chief and Council have their own opportunity to present their information as did other groups that had applied for a subsidy to review the EIS independently, such as Ramsey Hart from MiningWatch Canada and Gordon Edwards from the Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. What they presented concerned the data that Strateco had provided them with. They were both heavily critical of the project.

Many local coalitions and Elders also spoke about their fears and connection to a land they hold so dear.

And, at no point did Strateco contact the Nation requesting another interview to discuss its new data.

“Since 2007, Strateco has invested a great deal of energy, time and money in publicizing its project, as well as the issues related to uranium. The public pre-consultations in December 2008 identified the main concerns of the residents of Mistissini and of the Jamésie area. Information sessions, held in May 2010, and public hearings, held in

November 2010, should normally have allowed the public to receive clear answers to their concerns. The format chosen for these public sessions, however, failed to provide answers to these concerns; instead it gave a platform to individuals and groups who are known for their systematic opposition to mining projects or who are antinuclear.

Unfortunately, the experts invited by COMEX, COFEX and Strateco did not have the opportunity to answer questions from the public or respond to the many erroneous and outdated statements made, which were mostly unrelated to the Matoush project.

Strateco considers that it was penalized by the format selected. It should be noted that this format was modified for the public hearings in Chibougamau, which at least helped to correct some unsubstantiated statements. There was no opportunity for the experts to correct most of the inaccurate statements, which were considered truthful and credible

by the public, mainly in Mistissini.”

“Refusing to support the project would not only cause major financial harm to Strateco employees, Mistissini and Jamésie suppliers and Strateco shareholders, but would amount to recognizing that, in Quebec, fear and misinformation take precedence over the expertise of the competent authorities. We hope that you will respond favourably to our request.”

Mounting their own battle against the project, the Cree of Mistissini took their battle over uranium mining to a Council Board meeting March 23.

During the meeting Shecapio said the following: “Our worry is that uranium exploration and mining goes against the stewardship principles of our traditional teachings.

“We are concerned about the close proximity of uranium deposits to the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park. Given the potential for tourism, we have worries that a park and uranium project can co-exist in harmony.

“We also have concerns with the statement in two recent environmental impact assessments that several naturally occurring contaminants are present in the Otish Mountain drainage basin, often exceeding national maximum allowable limits. These assessment documents then go on to state that the addition of the same contaminants to the watercourse would have a negligible effect on the local environment.

“We are saying that more study needs to conducted by the Cree Nation to accurately measure what is present in the water now, to be able to fully understand what impacts uranium mining will have on our watershed,” said Shecapio.

During that same Council Board meeting a resolution was passed calling for a moratorium.

The resolution read: “That the Board/Council of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou lslchee)/Cree Regional Authority hereby formally support the implementation of a moratorium and uranium mining on the traditional lands of the Cree Nation of Mistissini, to allow for greater information to the members of the Cree Nation of Mistissini on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of advanced uranium exploration and uranium mining.”

Following that resolution, the GCC/CRA has since petitioned the government to support the moratorium, which is required for the moratorium to be in effect on Category 3 land.

During the speech, Shecapio spoke about a new partnership that the Band Council was forming with the University of Saskatchewan to implement a regional water-monitoring program to oversee water quality on traditional territory in advance of future resource development activity.

The Nation recently asked Shecapio to elaborate how this would work and what this would mean in relation to Strateco.

“Mistissini and the CRA are working closely with Professor Monique Dubé to develop a program that utilizes traditional knowledge and western science to gain a clearer understanding of the Otish Mountain drainage basin. This would include accurately measuring not only water quantity and quality, but also the abundance and seasonal variations of wildlife.

“We are in the preliminary stages of developing this pilot project that will serve as a model for implementation across Eeyou Istchee.”

The plan with this would be to have a monitoring system in place in any area where natural resource development is taking place as a safeguard for the Cree.

As for the moratorium, Shecapio explained that what the community wants is not a flat-out indefinite ban.

“The Cree Nation of Mistissini would like to make it clear that we are simply calling for a moratorium or a temporary halt to uranium development in this territory to give us more time to understand the watershed. We are not seeking a ban.

“The provincial government holds the power implement a moratorium on Cree traditional territories in Quebec,” said Shecapio.

As for Strateco’s current tactics in terms of raising funds for its project while telling the world that the project is supported by all of the local bodies, as they did in London, Shecapio responded:

“Our focus is on the COFEX and COMEX final reports. All I can reiterate is the point we made to the panels at the November 23 hearing – that Strateco didn’t do what it should have to build trust with the community. Their actions since that time just confirm this.”

With any hope a ruling will be in soon as will a response from the government on whether a moratorium would be permissible.