Abitibi-Témiscamingue First Nations fight for fair compensation from mining companies

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Protesters targeted the annual Quebec Mines conference with the message that exploration or exploitation on ancestral Anishnabe territory will no longer happen without their consent.

Members of Anishnabeg First Nations, including Abitibiwinni Chief David Kistabish and Vice-Chief of Lac-Simon Pamela Papatie, gathered in front of Quebec City’s Centre des congrès November 21 to take a stand against the way mining development is handled on their territory.
“We’re protesting because we want to negotiate impact and benefit agreements (IBAs) with the many mines in the region,” Kistabish said. “There are certain companies, Canadian Malartic among others, who aren’t taking us seriously.”

Kistabish vowed that until Quebec and prospective mining companies negotiate an agreement with the First Nations in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, there will be no more mines.

The Canadian Malartic mine is of particular concern to Kistabish and the Abitibiwinni First Nation (located in Pikogan), as well as to the nearby communities of Lac Simon, Kitcisakik and Winneway. Canadian Malartic recently announced the approval of their plan to divert Highway 117 and expand their open-pit gold mine that sits 25 kilometres west of Val-d’Or.

“They never consulted with the First Nations here, Lac-Simon or Pikogan,” he said. “I can only really speak for Pikogan because that’s who I represent, but neither the mining company or the government consulted us. We want this to stop.”

Kistabish said Canadian Malartic recently issued a media release noting the company has met with First Nations near the mine over the last two years and held seven negotiation tables with the communities concerned.

“But those all led to nothing,” Kistabish exclaimed. “Do you think we would be outside protesting if those [meetings] had brought concrete results? They’ve made us offers that are just ridiculous.”

Following the protest on November 21, Kistabish met with Quebec Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pierre Moreau.

“I think we were heard and understood,” he said. “We asked to meet with Minister Moreau and he accepted. It’s encouraging to know that we have his support and he was very receptive towards us.”

While Kistabish acknowledged the importance of government involvement in their struggle for rights and recognition, the main focus is still securing impact and benefit agreements with the mining companies on their land.

“For sure we’re looking to the government to solve this in the long term, we already have a consultation and accommodation agreement with the Quebec government,” he said. “What we really want is an IBA with the mining companies. We want to be stakeholders in the projects that take place here. But in Abitibi-Témiscamingue there seems to be resistance to this and that’s what we’re trying to break.”

Kistabish noted that Abitibi-Témiscamingue offers huge potential to the mining industry. “There’s a diverse selection of minerals: copper, gold, lithium, nickel…Sure, there’s some potential mining sites in the urban areas but a lot of the sites are on the territory where we practice our traditional activities.”

Kistabish said the Anishnabe would submit their conditions and wait to see how Quebec and the mining companies respond. He assured that his community will do “whatever is necessary” to obtain equitable treatment, including legal battles or more public protests.

“Our traditional land is our history – the passing down of knowledge, the understanding of our history,” he said. “It’s all a part of these lakes and portage routes. There are burial grounds, important harvesting areas more favourable for caribou hunting. I think you can understand that all of the potential of this land is what has allowed us to live here and to survive up until today. We’re very concerned about our territory. We must protect it.”

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