In what is being hailed as a model for cooperation between First Nations and mining companies, the Mistissini Cree have entered into an agreement with Stornoway Diamonds Inc. to develop the Renard Diamond Mine in Cree territory in northern Quebec.
The Mecheshoo Agreement, as it’s called, will be in effect for the duration of the mine’s existence. It contains provisions for the Cree to be involved in the mine’s development that include hiring Cree nation members and featuring training and education programs. It also contains mechanisms for the Cree to benefit financially from the mine through various avenues of payment and sharing in the mine’s profitability, something that First Nations have said is missing from most interactions with the mining industry.
"The Mecheshoo Agreement is again an example where, with the cooperation and participation of the Crees, mining development can take place and prosper in Eeyou Istchee," said Dr. Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, in a statement. "This agreement marks the beginning of a cooperative and fruitful relationship between the Crees and Stornoway, a relationship based on respect for Cree rights and environmental and economic sustainability. In accordance with the principles of our Cree Nation Mining Policy, the Crees and Stornoway have ensured that our traditional rapport to the land remains intact."
It was entered into by the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), the Cree Regional Authority and the Cree Nation of Mistissini, the Cree statement said.
"Stornoway has demonstrated an immense openness and has been willing to adapt the project in a manner that respects the Crees of Mistissini, our interests, our values, our culture and our way of life. This is the way we want to be dealt with," said Chief Richard Shecapio of the Cree Nation of Mistissini.
This spirit was evident at the press conference announcing the March 27 signing.
"It means that we acknowledge that first nations people are our neighbors, our employees, they are our business partners,” said Stornoway President Matt Manson to reporters, according to the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN). “They are the people who were on the lands before we arrived, and they are the people who will be on the lands when we leave. So we have responsibilities—we offer opportunities but we have responsibilities and obligations to these people."
Canada’s north is rich in mineral and other resource deposits, and the mining industry has shown an increased willingness and desire to work with aboriginals in mutually beneficial projects rather than merely stake their claims over First Nation objections. The recent conference of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) featured numerous forums and panels on how to work with aboriginals, and publications such as Forbes and The Wall Street Journal have been noting the new dynamic in news stories.