Barriere Lake Algonquins Oppose Copper Mining Proposal on Their Territory

Gale Courey Toensing
5/26/11

Members of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake community have invoked the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in their opposition to a proposed copper mine on their land. The mining threat also exposes the failure of Quebec’s Mining Act, the members said in a statement on their website.

Community spokesman Norm Matchewan and a few members from Algonquins of Barriere Lake (ABL), a 400-member First Nation located 300 miles north of Ottawa in Quebec, traveled to Montreal on May 20 to attend the annual general meeting of Val D’Or-based Cartier Resources Inc. They were not invited guests, a community spokesperson said.

At the meeting, Matchewan asserted that the overwhelming majority of community members oppose the company’s Rivière Doré (Gold River) mining plan, which would extract copper from the nation’s traditional territory. He also criticized Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s proposal to amend the province’s Mining Act.

The new bill includes a proposal to change the name of the Mining Act to the “Act respecting the development of mineral resources in keeping with the principles of sustainable development”—an Orwellian use of language given the Montreal Gazette’s report that the bill “is a key measure in the Charest government’s 25-year, $80 billion Plan Nord to unlock the mineral, forestry and hydroelectric resources” of half of the northern Quebec territory. The province promises to set aside half of the territory as a nature reserve, develop tourism and “improve the lives of native and non-native northerners,” but the Algonquins of Barriere Lake are not buying it, Matchewan said.

“The Charest government’s planned amendments to Quebec’s Mining Act do nothing to address the basic human rights violation at its core: the fact that no communities, including First Nations, have the right to give their free, prior and informed consent to a mining project,” Matchewan said in a statement.

The right to free, prior and informed consent to any development is spelled out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was endorsed by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government last November.

Article 32 of the Declaration clearly defines a state’s obligations with regard to development on indigenous peoples’ lands: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

In March, Barriere Lake community members discovered copper exploration activities on their traditional territory, south-east of Val D’Or, Quebec. The land has never been ceded by the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, who hold constitutionally protected aboriginal title and rights at the site of the potential mine, according to the nation’s website.

“Our way of life is inseparable from the land we live on,” a narrator says in a video about the mining project. “This is the land where we dream and where our ancestors live.”

The land is also already covered by the 1991 Trilateral Agreement between the nation, the Canadian federal government and the Quebec government, a resource-use agreement that was supposed to create a sustainable development plan for the community’s traditional 10,000 square kilometers that would include revenue sharing, resource co-management, and economic independence for Barriere Lake. This Trilateral Agreement was praised by the United Nations, but both Quebec and Canada have refused to implement it.

The Elders Council of Barriere Lake issued a letter to the Quebec Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife on May 2 declaring that the community will not allow any resource extraction like mining on their traditional territory until the Trilateral Agreement is implemented.

“Charest’s claim that the Mining Act amendments fit the ‘principles of sustainable development’ is totally hollow,” said Matchewan."If the Quebec government were concerned about sustainable development, they would not allow a mining company to explore and open a mine against the wishes of a community, to engage in activities that will have negative impacts on the land, water, animals and plants that we depend on. We will not allow this mine to be built.”

The mineral exploration activities have currently stopped, after community members went to the potential mine site to request that the workers leave. The workers respected the community’s wishes.

More about the Barriere Lake struggle and the Indian Act in this video.

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