Canadian First Nations march to demand ban on uranium exploration in Quebec

Date of publication: 
24 November 2014

A group of young members of the James Bay Cree Nation began an 800-kilometre trek from Mistissini to Montreal Sunday to demand a ban on uranium development in northern Quebec.

They plan to arrive in Montreal on Dec. 15, the final day of hearings on uranium development by Quebec’s environmental watchdog, the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE).

The march underlines the Crees’ opposition to uranium exploration and mining, which they say would invade their territory, pollute the environment and threaten their traditional way of life.

“Our message is clear: we have said NO to uranium mining and exploration in Eeyou Istchee,” said in a statement leader Joshua Iserhoff, who launched an invitation to other marchers to join the walk at any point along the route to Montreal, via Chibougamau, the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region and Quebec City.

The suspension of uranium mining in the province came in effect in April last year, making Quebec the third Canadian jurisdiction, after Nova Scotia and British Columbia, to halt exploration and development of these kinds of mines.

Miners flee Quebec

Mining investments in Quebec have steadily dropped in the last few years, plunging about 37% in 2013 from a record the year before. The jurisdiction has also fallen in the famous index of mining destinations put together every year by the Fraser Institute, an independent think-tank: From being the No.1 desired place to invest in mining from 2007 to 2010, it barely reached the 11th place out of 96 jurisdictions last year.

Experts think the uranium moratorium sped up the fall and companies with interest in the area are a testimony of that. Strateco (TSE:RSC), based in Boucherville, has been waiting for years for a certificate of authorization from Quebec’s environment department to begin exploration work at its Matoush site in the Otish Mountains, about 275 kilometres north of Chibougamau.

The junior has began legal action against the provincial government and announced an impairment charge of $87 million in its accounts due to its inability to proceed with the project’s underground exploration program.

In November Quebec refused to authorize the Matoush underground exploration phase. Stretco said it had invested over $123 million to date in the project, the most advanced of about 20 proposed uranium mining projects in northern Quebec.

The firm’s stock plunged by more than 60% last year after the government halted exploration. Stretco’s projects were part of former Liberal premier Jean Charest’s plan to develop Canada’s north.

Environmental groups have tabled 1,500 briefs opposing uranium development before the BAPE and launched an online campaign.


James Bay Cree youth begin epic 850 km trek against uranium mining in territory

24 November 2014

MISTISSINI, Que.–The James Bay Cree are taking their fight against uranium exploration in their territory to Montreal.

But they’re not in a hurry to get there. The Cree Youth Council has begun an over 850 kilometre trek from their traditional territory of Eeyou Istchee to Quebec’s biggest city.

“With this march, we the Cree youth are walking in the footsteps of our ancestors, to hand deliver the message of the Cree Nation as a whole,” Youth Chairman Joshua Iserhoff explained. “Our message is clear: We have said no to uranium mining and exploration in Eeyou Istchee.”

The Stand against Uranium March left Mistissini Sunday and hopes to pick up supporters and followers on the way. The march passes through Anishnabee and Attikamekw land as it winds its way through the Laurentian Wildlife reserve, through Quebec City, before stopping in Montreal on Dec. 15.

They plan to arrive on the last day of public hearings on uranium exploration in Quebec.

“As youth, we want to make sure that our position is heard,” said Amy Linton, Chief of the Mistissini Youth Council. “We do not accept the risks and burdens that uranium development will impose on us, on our land and on our future generations.”

The Otish mountain region of Eeyou Istchee was targeted for uranium exploration, but all work there has ceased as a result of a moratorium imposed in 2013.

That could change next year when Quebec’s public environmental review body, Le Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), presents its findings to the Minister of the Environment in May 2015.

Dubbed the “Matoush Project,” the proposed mining site sits a couple of hundred kilometres north of Mistissini, right in the middle of James Bay Cree traditional hunting grounds and waterways. According to Strateco Resources, the mining company in charge of the Matoush project, the site holds one of the highest grade uranium deposits in the world.

But the Cree nation is concerned that a uranium mine would contaminate their land and traditional way of life with radiation.

“Mistissini is the point of origin for the environmental, health and social risks that uranium presents,” said Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio. “We have a vision for the responsible development of our territory that protects our lands and our way of life for future generations. Uranium mining has no place in that vision.”

The Cree youth council has set up Twitter account @JBCAUranium to track their progress.