The Barriere Lake Algonquin community has reason to celebrate the effectiveness of its direct actions. In a rare victory for First Nations, Cartier Resources has announced the suspension of its Rivière Doré copper mining project on the Algonquin community’s traditional land in northwestern Quebec. The suspension follows several months of peaceful direct actions by community members, expressing their overwhelming opposition to Cartier’s exploratory activities and the possibility that a mine would be developed at the site.
“The community applauds Cartier Resources for respecting our wishes that no mining exploration and drilling proceed,” said Norman Matchewan, a spokesperson for Barriere Lake.
The Barriere Lake Algonquin community, like other First Nations in Canada, is pressing the Canadian government to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the country adopted last November. Matchewan congratulated Cartier for abiding by the Declaration’s most fundamental concepts: the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities before governments, corporations or other entities undertake activities that affect indigenous lands.
“The company is setting an important precedent by not moving ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of the community, a right recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Matchewan said.
In a press release posted on its web site, Cartier Resources said the company decided to suspend operations at the site after several discussions with the Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife, the Secretary of Aboriginal Affairs and the Algonquin Community. Cartier’s permit under Canada’s Mining Act for 1,052 claims has been suspended until July 3, 2013, meaning no further exploration activities can take place before then. It does not rule out future activity, however.
Cartier President and Chief Executive Officer Philippe Cloutier said the company’s decision “confirms our respect for stakeholders in this area and will contribute to future development of the project.”
Exploration activities at the mining site stopped in March, when contract workers complied with requests from community members to leave. In May, Barriere Lake’s Elders Council issued a letter to the Quebec Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife Serge Simard and Cloutier promising that the community would peacefully block any resource extraction like mining on their traditional territory until the Trilateral Agreement is implemented. Community members then traveled to Montreal to speak at the company's annual general meeting, where they reiterated their opposition to the mine. In June, community members camped out on the exploration site to stop test drilling.
The community members are now urging the Quebec government to fulfill its obligations under the Trilateral Agreement. This 1991 resource-use agreement between the First Nation, the Canadian federal government and the Quebec government was supposed to create a sustainable development plan for the community’s traditional 3,900 square miles 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.
“We call on the Quebec government to follow Cartier Resources’ lead by withdrawing any mineral claims in the entire area of the Trilateral Agreement until they have implemented the Trilateral Agreement,” said Matchewan. “If Premier Jean Charest is committed to sustainable development and a just relationship with First Nations, this should be his natural next step.”
Ramsey Hart of MiningWatch Canada, a national, nonprofit organization, also congratulated Cartier Resources. "This was a voluntary decision by the company that points out Quebec's failure to work with the Algonquin and other First Nations such as the Innu and Mohawk to develop a protocol for consultation and consent of mining activities in their territories.”
The project was in its early stages of development, which may have made it easier for the company to decide to suspend operations, “but I’m pretty convinced it was due to the opposition of the Algonquin,” Hart said. “It’s a small victory in some ways, but it’s fairly rare that a company will acknowledge an aboriginal community’s concerns publicly and withdraw from a project based on those concerns.”