For as far back as he can remember, Chief David Kistabish says there were mines on Algonquin territory. Workers came and went, companies plundered gold from the earth and, in the very worst cases, dumped their waste into the rivers that had sustained life on the territory for millennia. At no point, throughout this process, did they consult with the people whose livelihood still depended on the land, Kistabish says.
“Elders in our community tell us that, historically, the gold mine up river dumped its tailings into the water,” said Kistabish, Chief of the Abitibiwinni First Nation — a community about 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal. “They spoke about seeing beavers and other animal corpses floating along the river. It poisoned an important food source for us. That’s what mining means to them.”
Despite the history of distrust between his community and the mining industry, Kistabish announced an agreement Tuesday with RNC Minerals (formerly called Royal Nickel Corporation). Under the deal, the Algonquins of Abitibiwinni will oversee a study about the impact a nickel mine could have on their hunting and fishing grounds.
The specific terms of the deal are confidential.
The community of 600 — tucked into the southern rim of the Boreal Forest — still mainly lives off the goose, caribou and fish it harvests from the land and nearby Harricana River. Kistabish says he signed the deal with assurances the mine would have minimal impact on wildlife in the region.
“Our first priority isn’t royalties or money, it’s the environment,” said Alain Hervieux, a band council chief who worked closely on negotiations with RNC. “We have to understand what’s at stake, how our territory will be affected. The rest is secondary. … Once they convinced us they were acting in good faith and that we’d be included in the overseeing project, after that, it’s all details.”
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