On February 14, 2002, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake passed a resolution to protect their traditional territory from a niobium mine that will affect their waters and lands. They are demanding a full environmental assessment conducted by Québec and the Federal government of the Niocan project, preferably jointly.
The requests to the Québec and federal governments state that "the Mohawk Council will continue to oppose this project through all means available to us."
The mine proposed by Niocan is to be an underground niobium mine near Oka, Québec close to a closed columbium mine that had been operated by St-Lawrence Columbium. The mine has been exempt from environmental assessment under the BAPE, because its projected production falls short of the levels for automatic inclusion. However, there has been a growing outcry as more information about the mine comes to the attention of the community.
The mine will have an impact on over 25 sq. kms of land in a dynamic agricultural area, which markets directly from the farms to the population of Montreal. This area includes the traditional territory of the Mohawks of Kanesatake.
Isotopes of radium and polonium exist in elevated concentrations in the ore body that Niocan proposes to mine. These and other radioactive materials (including radium-226, lead-210 and thorium-230) will be left behind in the large volumes of radioactive wastes left over from the mining operations in slag and tailings. It is intended to use water from the processing to water farmers fields. The Environmental Impact Study done for Niocan did not include any expertise on radioactivity, nor does the company have any management plan for dealing with these radiological effects.
The people of the area are getting more involved all the time. First, a referendum was carried out by the Parish of Oka, with more than 60% of the population opposing the mine. Then the municipality hired their own consultant, Donat Bilodeau, who found that the mine would have a more dramatic effect on the aquifers than Niocan had predicted. Then the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake became involved. They have hired their own lawyers and consultants, and are opposing the mine in court, in an appeal of a decision by the Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Territory of Québec (CPTAQ) to allow the mine to proceed.
The level of public concern is such that the mine warrants a full environmental assessment under the Québec Act. Federal involvement becomes essential due to the radiological concerns, Aboriginal rights and fiduciary responsibility questions, and the location of the mine near a major river.
Based on a detailed report submitted to them by their consultants, the Mohawk resolutions demanding the inquiry make the following points:
- Niocan seeks to construct and operate a mine on lands which are within the old Seigneury of the Lake of Two mountains and over which the Mohawks have aboriginal and treaty rights. They are in active negotiations with the Crown regarding their claims to this land.
- The Mohawks of Kanesatake are absolutely opposed to the mine.
- The harmful effects of the mine have not been properly assessed by the company, and in fact many of the deleterious effects have been ignored by the company.
- The mine will deplete and lower the underground water table, which will create greater competition for water in the area between agricultural pursuits and the mine, and this will negatively impact on both surface water and underground water supplies and affect fauna, flora and the agricultural potential of the area.
- The ore body that Niocan proposes to mine is radioactive, containing high levels of uranium and thorium, along with 36 different radioactive by-products.
- The mining process will stir up the ore-body and release uranium, polonium, thorium and their radioactive byproducts into the air and water, as well as radon gas. Most of the radioactive effects are not even mentioned in the Niocan Environmental Assessment.
- Niocan proposes that the mining residues from the Niocan mining project (including the slag) will be buried within their two mine pits as well as the pits from the old St. Lawrence Columbium mine. The two immense pits from the St. Lawrence Columbium operation resemble giant underground water towers. Therefore, both surface waters and underground waters will, in the long term, be in direct contact with these radioactive residues.
- While Niocan contends that slag residues and other hazardous material from the old St. Lawrence Columbium mine will be buried in the underground mines shafts, the Mohawk experts "have determined this is untrue," since although there will be room to bury the slag, almost all the sandy radioactive residues at the old site will be left there and the 6.5 million tonnes of tailings and waste rock will be added to the old ones.
- The construction and operation of the Niocan Mine in Oka is utterly incompatible with the agricultural viability of the lands in the area.
You can read more about this mine on the Mohawk website at www.kanesatake.com/niocanposition.
In October 2000, Niocan responded to a posting on the MiningWatch Canada website about the project with a letter that stated (among other things):
- the mine will be exclusively underground so there would be no pile of waste rock;
- "the tailings from the Niocan exploitation meet the BNQ requirements for uses as soil amendments and they are not radioactive";
- "On February 8th and 9th (2000) specialists from the government, Department of Public Health and Housing Society of Québec made a presentation in Oka and clearly stated that mining has nothing to do with producing radon gas";
- The provincial government has provided an equity investment of $427,000 out of $6 million in private money invested in the project.
MiningWatch Canada believes there must be a full joint environmental assessment of this project. We ask you to support the Mohawks of Kanesatake and the other farmers of the Oka region in writing to the following to support the demand for a full inquiry:
Hon. David Anderson Minister of the Environment Government of Canada Fax: 819-997-1441
Hon. Andre Boisclair Minister of the Environment Government of Québec Fax (418) 643-4143
Mohawk Council of Kanesatake 681 Rang Ste-Philomene Kanesatake Mohawk Territory, Québec J0N 1E0 Fax: 450-479-8373 Attention Interim Grand Chief Steve Bonspille