February 2010

First Nations

A window into the future: The Cree Nation of Nemaska takes charge of its economic destiny

By J.C. Reyes

The Cree Nation of Nemaska has invested $600,000 in the creation of a publicly traded exploration company, Nemaska Exploration Inc. (TSE:NMX). By doing so, the community is pioneering a new path in mineral exploration and development. Not only is it avoiding being left out in the cold with regards to its own mineral interests, but it is also moving into the driver’s seat to steer exploration work on its lands.

To learn more about the history and process that made this investment possible, I recently spoke with Robert Kitchen, the economic development officer for the Cree Nation of Nemaska. What follows is a synopsis of what I learned from him.

Kitchen said that the Nemaska region has had a long history of mineral development. Much of this history was handed down by the elders who hunted on these lands. Their visions foretold the development of these areas by people from the south. Kitchen first heard about the mineral significance of this region from the Jolly family, who are the area’s caretakers. They talked to him about a person from the Chibougamau region who had conducted some exploration there.

About two years ago, local hunters and trappers reported that a company called Golden Goose had started exploration activities in the area. They soon contacted the company, hoping to begin an open discussion on the development of a memorandum of understanding. It was their intent to have the demands of the tallymen and family members considered by the company.

They requested a presentation by Golden Goose, seeking a better understanding of the potential risks and benefits of the proposed nickel project for the community. After reviewing the company’s presentation, the Council developed a memorandum of understanding that would reflect the needs of Nemaska, the tallymen and their families.

In the midst of drafting an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA), they learned that Golden Goose was to be purchased by Nemaska Exploration Inc. A meeting was arranged between Chief Jimiken and Guy Bourassa, the head of Nemaska Exploration. The Chief explained that the Cree Nation of Nemaska had an interest in becoming a shareholder in the company.

In the course of exploring investment options and mechanisms, Chief Jimiken made a few points very clear. He emphasized that Nemaska was a community that would still be there long after the company was gone. He further stressed that the community was willing to share its lands with the outside world, with the hope that Nemaska could develop sustainable employment opportunities for its youth.

Kitchen noted that there were many reasons for which the Cree Nation of Nemaska regarded this partnership as a very positive step towards economic independence. They realized that the investment will create employment, provide a positive return on investment, allow the community to make decisions instead of sitting on the sidelines, offer long-term benefits for the community and the trappers affected by the project, and ensure that the community has a say in protecting the environment.

Kitchen said that one of Nemaska Exploration’s long-term goals is to raise funds to continue expanding the volume of proven resources. The Nemaska First Nation is confident that it will be one of the world’s next great mining communities. Hopeful that this partnership will create new opportunities for its youth, the community is now approaching other exploration and mining companies to develop similar partnerships. Kitchen also reported that the community is committed to continue taking this approach to developing sustainable projects. It will keep on requesting that governments promote the land-use approach they favour for the territory of Nemaska.

My conversation with Kitchen was heartening. It made me feel that although we might never see a perfect world in which Aboriginal communities and the mining industry coexist in complete harmony, the determination and resourcefulness of communities like Nemaska bring us closer to that ideal than I would have ever thought possible.

Juan Carlos Reyes is an Aboriginal consultant with efficiency.ca and the executive director of Learning Together. He is passionate about human rights and works tirelessly to help improve the lives of Canadian Aboriginal people.

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