Northern Developments: Renard diamond mine and Wabun agreement

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Quebec’s first diamond mine in Eeyou Istchee will work closely with the Cree Nation

by Peter Wheeland

Last month’s opening of Quebec’s first diamond mine launched a new era of resource development in the north, providing economic stimulus and ecological guarantees for the Eeyou Istchee.

Located just north of the Otish Mountains about 320 kilometres from Mistissini in the M11 trapline territory, the Renard Mine is expected to produce an average of 1.8 million carats in raw gemstones a year over its 14-year lifespan – about 2 percent of global diamond production. At current values, the annual output will be worth about $375 million.

Governed by the 2012 Mecheshoo Agreement negotiated between the Stornoway mining company and Eeyou Istchee leaders, the Renard Mine operations will provide between 450 and 525 full-time jobs, one-quarter of which are expected to be filled by local Cree thanks to preferential hiring policies for qualified workers.

The agreement also creates special training programs “intended to facilitate the successful recruitment of Crees, their advancement and retention in all business units at the Renard Diamond Mine.”

In addition, suppliers in the Mistissini, Chibougamau and Chapais areas have already seen close to $100 million a year in business with the extension of Route 167 from Mistissini and the construction of the Renard Mine facilities.

The Mecheshoo Agreement also establishes Renard Mine working committees with Grand Council, Mistissini and Stornoway representation to oversee the agreement as well as employment and training opportunities and environmental impacts.

stornoway-processing-plant-as-seen-fom-the-surrounding-bush                        aerial-view-of-mine-site

The company flew in suppliers, investors, politicians and media October 19 for the official opening. Landing at the mine’s Clarence and Abel Swallow Airport, named for two former M11 tallymen, visitors were bused about 8 km down the final stretch of Route 167/Renard Mine Rd. to the mine site.

Stornoway chief operating officer Patrick Godin stopped the media bus to point out that the entire mine site of about 300 hectares was surrounded by a large ditch designed to collect any runoff from the site and redirect it to the on-site water treatment plant for monitoring and treatment.

He also noted the company decided to build its own liquefied natural gas power plant, cutting projected greenhouse gas production by 43% and saving the company $10 million a year on fuel costs over a traditional diesel-generation plant.

Not your average jewel case

Visitors enter the site via the worker accommodation complex, a sprawling array of offices, sleeping areas and a well-stocked cafeteria designed to serve hundreds of workers 24 hours a day. Our bags, jackets and belongings were run through portable X-ray machines by site security before we were ushered into the main building. There, after a short wait in the temporary press room, we were surrounded by guards and escorted to a secured location to meet the real guest of honour, a glass display case containing about 20,000 carats in unassayed diamonds worth $3 million to $5 million.


Stornoway CEO Matt Manson, who casually reached his hand into the case to pick up one of the larger gemstones, explained that it currently takes about six working days to process a batch that size, which weighs about 4 kg. When the operations are running full-steam, the facility will produce a similar volume every two to three days.

The Stornoway diamonds are strictly intended for the jewellery market and will be sold unprocessed at auction in Antwerp, Belgium, to buyers who will arrange to have the stones cut and polished for retail sale.

The mining operations are fairly simple, consisting of two open-pit mines and one underground mine where Renard workers dig up the kimberlite ore that signals the potential presence of diamonds created billions of years ago. Formed by carbon crushed at extremely high pressure and at temperatures of 1,200°C about 150 km beneath the Earth’s crust, the diamonds were transported over a billion years ago in violent volcanic eruptions that created kimberlite “pipes” to the surface. When the magma cooled, veins of kimberlite ore encased the hidden gems that are now scattered across the northern Canadian Shield.

Once the Renard Mine ore is excavated, it’s loaded onto huge trucks and transported to an on-site processing plant where it’s crushed at pressures low enough to avoid damaging the diamonds. Then it’s mixed with a water-ferrosilicon slurry and spun through large centrifuges that cause high-density material – such as diamonds – to drop to the bottom. The resulting concentrate is then sent to an X-ray “flow sorter” that detects and diverts 98% of the diamonds present. The remaining gems are recovered via a “grease table” that use the diamonds’ water-repelling characteristics to trap the most elusive stones.

Unlike many metallurgical mines, diamond processing doesn’t produce high levels of hazardous chemical by-products or acidic mine tailings that can leach into the soil or water table. According to the mine owners, the facility meets or exceeds all environmental standards for water and waste treatment.

aerial-view-processing-plant-perspective                        traditional-cree-longhouse-at-cultural-site-on-shore-of-lagopede-lake

Under the Mecheshoo Agreement, Stornoway has also undertaken to remove all structures and equipment as well as restore and revegetate the site once mining operations cease. The only parts of the site that won’t be recovered are the two pit mines, which will simply be allowed to fill with water, eventually forming two small lakes.

The Renard Mine project raised $946 million in financing, including $110 million from the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec pension fund and $220 million from the province, which owns 29% of the shares.

The Mecheshoo Agreement also “ensures that the Crees will receive financial benefits through different payment mechanisms and participation in the profitability of the mine,” according to the Grand Council news release issued for the signing.

IBA signed by four First Nations and Tahoe Resources

by Xavier Kataquapit

The Wabun Tribal Council First Nations of Matachewan, Mattagami and Flying Post joined with Wahgoshig to sign an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) with Tahoe Resources. The signing ceremony, which took place in Timmins, Ontario on October 27, is the result of nearly six years of negotiations that was started with Lakeshore Gold before it merged into Tahoe in April 2016.

Chief Walter Naveau (Mattagami), Chief Murray Ray (Flying Post) and Chief Alex “Sonny” Batisse (Matachewan) spoke to those in attendance about the importance of following through on negotiations with the result of an IBA, thanking their members and councils for the guidance and support in moving ahead with negotiations.

“I am here to today to join in with others to sign this agreement for the benefit of the future for our children and communities. I do this with the hope that our work together will give our future generations prosperity and that they will have what the rest of Canada enjoys in regards to employment, education and a good life,” commented Naveau.












Ron Clayton, President and Chief Executive Officer and Director of Tahoe Resources, emphasized the positive in his remarks.

“We believe the agreement is an achievement mounted on the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. It will involve long-term benefits, business opportunities, employment and training as well as education for the First Nations,” Clayton said.

Shawn Batise, an Ontario Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for negotiations at the Ministry Of Indigenous Relations And Reconciliation, worked on negotiating the agreement over the years with the chiefs.

“I want to thank Tahoe Resources for improving this agreement,” said Batise. “This is one of the better agreements we have signed over the years and our First Nations can be proud of what they have achieved here today. I grateful to be invited today to celebrate all of the hard work we had done over the years to arrive at this agreement. This agreement is a great indication of what reconciliation can and should be all about.”


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