TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – A group of Quebec- and Labrador-based First Nations would like to see the Quebec government include rare earth elements in the same moratorium currently in force for uranium.
The Quebec government had decreed a moratorium on issuing exploration, development or mining permits for uranium projects in the province on March 28, 2013, until an independent study of the impacts of uranium was completed.
The Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), which currently represented 43 tribal chiefs, said, during an assembly last month, the First Nations resolved to support the Eagle Village and Wolf Lake Algonquin First Nations in opposing Canadian firm Matamec Explorations’ proposed Kipawa rare earths project on First Nation reserve lands.
The AFNQL noted that it would communicate its position to the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE), which was holding public hearings this month on the uranium industry in Quebec.
The local opposition to uranium exploration and mining had all but snuffed out the provincial industry, exemplified by uranium project developer Strateco Resources in June, when it mothballed its flagship Matoush project, in the Otish Mountains, after spending more than $123-million.
Matamec had proposed to build, operate and decommission a rare earths openpit mine that would process 1.3-million tonnes of ore a year over a 15-year mine life. The mine would be about 40 km east of the municipality of Kipawa, on a territory where Eagle Village and Wolf Lake First Nations asserted Aboriginal title and rights.
In its statement, the AFNQL also accused the Quebec government of not fulfilling its duty to consult or accommodate the two Algonquin First Nations in the exploration phase or the current development phase of the Kipawa mine.
The two Algonquin First Nations explained that their own cultural and socioeconomic assessments had indicated that the Matamec project would have an irreversible impact on their quality of life, their customs, traditions and access to and use of their traditional lands. They added that the proposed location of the openpit mine, waste rock tailings, new road construction, processing plant and the tailings ponds were all in close proximity to rivers, lakes and wetlands in several watersheds of critical importance to the two Algonquin First Nations.
The First Nations added that during a September 24 information session, in Wendake, BAPE commissioners and officials from the Quebec Ministry of Environment reportedly confirmed that they considered rare-earth elements to be the same as uranium.
The report could not be verified.
“… our concern is heightened by the fact that there are currently no operating rare earth mines in Canada and there is no government regulatory experience with this kind of mining and processing,” the AFNQL said in a statement.
However, Canada is the world’s largest exporter of sustainably sourced uranium, an industry from which many parallel lessons could be drawn.