The Grand Council of the Crees

Position on the application for a uranium mine site preparation and construction licence by Strateco Resources Inc.

Posted: 2012-06-05

Wachiya, Good evening, Bonjour

My name is Ashley Iserhoff and I am the Deputy Grand Chief/Vice Chairman of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) / Cree Regional Authority.

I would like to welcome the Commission Tribunal, the CNSC’s staff, the representatives of Strateco Resources and all guests to Eeyou Istchee.

I wish to offer my appreciation to Chief Richard Shecapio and the Council of the Cree Nation of Mistissini for welcoming everyone, and I would like to thank all participants for coming to the CNSC public hearings.

I know it has been a long day for everyone, but this schedule is the result of your participation in large numbers which is significant and good reason.

The number of submissions sent to the CNSC to present your position on the project, based on your needs and values, is impressive and demonstrates the great interest you have concerning the future development of your traditional territories, especially about uranium development.

I know that to speak in front of a large assembly as today takes courage and determination, and the efforts taken by all of you to come forward and present your point of view to the Commission Tribunal are recognized. It demonstrates the vitality and good health of the community of Mistissini, which is its strength.

For many weeks now, you have raised your concerns and spoken on this project at various forums; rest assured the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) have heard you. Today, it is the Commission Tribunal’s turn to hear your voice.

I wish to thank you all who submitted a briefing to the hearings.

For the benefit of the Commission Tribunal members, I will do my presentation in English.

This presentation is on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) / Cree Regional Authority’s position on the application for a uranium mine site preparation and construction license by Strateco Resources Inc.

The Cree of Eeyou Istchee represent more than 18,000 Cree or “Eeyou and Eenou” residing in ten communities on our traditional territory and homeland of Northern Québec. The Grand Council of the Cree is the political body representing all Cree.

The Grand Council has twenty members: a Grand Chief and Deputy-Grand Chief elected at large by the Eeyou, the chiefs elected by each of the nine Cree First Nation Communities, and one other representative from each community (a tenth community is in the process of being established).

On behalf of the Grand Council of the Cree, I wish to present to the Commission Tribunal the reasons we support the Cree Nation of Mistissini’s position against uranium development on their traditional lands.

My presentation today consists of the following sections:

The first section will address the scope of the project and its justification.
Second I will raise the health, safety and environmental impacts and risks of this project. 
Third, I will end my presentation with a comment on the Communication and Information Agreement between the Cree Nation of Mistissini and Strateco Resource and the position taken by the Cree Nation of Mistissini.

Scope of the project and its justification

The members of the community of Mistissini are concerned with the potential impacts of the proposed licence for the Matoush Advanced Exploration Project (Matoush Project).

The concerns are not only related to the advance exploration stage, but also with the mining exploitation stage, fuel processing and production, as well as with waste management. The life circle impacts of the nuclear field give rise to serious concerns among the Crees that their environment and health will be subjected to severe repercussions for both this and future generations.

There exists a long history of mining in Eeyou Istchee, but not with uranium mining. It is of crucial importance to take into account the fact that this type of mineral development would be a first in Québec.

Strateco Resources is not the only uranium exploration company in the area and people believe this project will open the door to greater uranium mining development. The cumulative impacts of mining, especially uranium mining, are a great concern for the people.

We believe a life circle approach to evaluate the impacts and the risks as well as the costs and benefits would be more appropriate and would determine the cumulative impacts of uranium development more clearly.

To limit the review to the exploration stage and its matters of regulatory interests does not allow our people to address all their concerns. The importance of informing and involving the people as early as possible before a project’s development is fully determined is an internationally recognized principle.

Why are the Cree and the population of Québec unable to benefit from a comprehensive overview of the major health, safety and environmental impacts and risks associated with each stage of the nuclear energy field?

The Cree Nation of Mistissini must be given the opportunity to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent to the uranium development. They need to know in what manner their traditional territories and natural resources will be affected.

The Crees should be well-informed on the comprehensive overview of the impacts before any development is undertaken. This would allow them to form a clearer decision on whether or not they accept or refuse a development project.

Any project of this type must have the support of the Cree Nation.

Health, Safety and Environmental Impacts and Risks

Following our reading of the CNSC Commission Member Document, we understand that the CNSC staff concludes that the Matoush Project poses low overall risk to health, safety and the environment.

The CNSC staff explains that the proposed activities and related risks are similar to the ones encountered in conventional mining activities because the mining development would be for the most part through clear rock. The CNSC staff concludes that the Commission should accept its assessment and conclusion and approve the issuance of the Uranium Mine Site Preparation and Construction Licence.

In the last decades, our people have gone through many rapid changes that have affected our traditional culture. People have seen the pristine environment modified by various types of contaminants stem from the cumulative impacts of various development projects.

Although the CNSC staff and the proponent have tried to explain scientifically to the Cree people that the proposed Project shows low risks, they still feel threatened by the new type of contaminants and impacts resulting from uranium exploration and exploitation.

Whether or not the impacts are low or high, the Cree remain mistrustful and this lack of trust will transform their behaviour and relationship with the land. The nourishing land will become a threat, and weaken their traditional way of life on the land.

An historical perspective is relevant to illustrate the impact a contaminant can have on the Cree way of life.

Since the late 1970’s, resource development in Eeyou Istchee has had a direct impact on the traditional Cree way of life, resulting in a very rapid rate of cultural change.

The shock waves of development on the quality of life are complex, difficult to measure and very challenging to manage adequately. Nevertheless, these are collectively not sufficient reasons to ignore these serious social and cultural issues.

The continuous effects on our culture need to be addressed because we need to lessen the threat, both the perceived and physical impact on our traditional way of life brought about by uranium exploration and exploitation development on our lands.

During previous hearings or forums on the Matoush Project, many persons mentioned the pristine environment and the concern that bush food and the waters coming from the Otish Mountains would be contaminated.

The project is located in the Otish Mountains an area much valued by the Crees, in particular because it is the head of an important watershed. Waters coming from the Otish Mountains flow down to Lake Mistissini and are vital to the well-being of our traditional territory which we call Eeyou Istchee.

The safeguard of the quality and integrity of waters in the Otish Mountains and its resources is highly valued. Serious concerns exist regarding  ionizing radiation, future atmospheric releases of radon gas, the contamination of groundwater and surface water by radionuclide, heavy metals and other contaminants, and of course the potential contamination of the wildlife and vegetation.

A large part of land could be affected, not just by the physical impacts themselves of the project, but by the perceptions and reactions of our people in relation to the impacts of the project and others like it.

Despite the requirement to comply with Canadian standards and practices, we do not believe that it will alleviate the legitimate concerns among the people regarding the impacts and risks related to this Project and other potential projects of a similar nature for which this Project will open the door.

In view of the problems that we have experienced with mercury, we can only express serious doubts of the CNSC staff’s conclusion that the Project will have low overall risk on health.

Up to now, the Crees are not confident that the proponent’s environmental risk management system will effectively deal with the potential physical impacts and the community’s negative perception and concerns regarding the Project. It appears evident that the Conventional Health and Safety Program to manage the workplace safety is insufficient in dealing with all the impacts that this Project may cause on health, even if it meets the regulatory requirements under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

The scientific explanations given to the Mistissini population have for the most part not been accepted.  We believe the the Commission Tribunal needs to take into consideration the impact that the concerns and perceptions of the population of Mistissini will have on their traditional way of life.

The concerns of the Cree Nation of Mistissini’s regarding this Project are not facile or frivolous.  It should be noted that the Cree Nation has supported and continues to support mining development and the economic opportunities that it presents. We have partnerships with mining companies with which we seek to address employment challenges in the community.

In spite of these benefits of mining development, in the case of radioactive minerals, certain other concerns arise relating to our way of life and to our well-being.

In order to have a better understanding of the community’s opinion about the proposed Matoush Project, the Cree Nation of Mistissini held in 2011 a number of information sessions, work group meetings and a survey regarding the advanced uranium exploration and uranium mining on Mistissini traditional territory. The survey pointed out that community members were predominantly opposed to the Project.

We understand that, in view of the foregoing, the Cree Nation of Mistissini has taken a position to oppose uranium mining on Mistissini traditional territory.  Moreover, it has requested a moratorium on Strateco’s advanced exploration project on Mistissini traditional territory .

Communication and Information Agreement

A Communication and Information Agreement (CIA) was signed in December 2011 between Strateco Resources and the Cree Nation of Mistissini.  The CIA set out a framework with various undertakings for both Parties to allow for the communication of relevant and useful information on the Matoush Project.

This CIA has just started to be implemented, and the Grand Council believes that it would be premature to make any assumptions as to the success of its implementation. 

We understand that the Cree Nation of Mistissini considers that the information presented by the Project proponent to date have not materially improved the community’s perception of the Project or met with the community’s expectations.

We also understand that, in view of the foregoing, the Cree Nation of Mistissini continues to reject the Proponent’s advanced uranium exploration project on the Matoush site and will request the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission not to grant the proponent a licence to proceed.

Conclusion

The Cree Nation of Mistissini must take the lead on this Project as it will have the greatest impact on its people. 

The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) has already stated its support to the Cree Nation of Mistissini for its position regarding the Project.  Our support for the Cree Nation of Mistissini’s position has not changed, and we now wish to reiterate our support.

 

Meegwetch.