A copper mine project in the heart of the forest

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A copper mine project in the heart of the forest

A company is exploring the idea of ​​installing the first copper mine in operation in Quebec for years in the heart of the Haute-Mauricie forest. On this vast territory, logging companies, Atikamekw communities, outfitters and residents already rub shoulders. What do they think of the potential arrival of a new neighbor?

The Kintavar company is exploring an area of ​​some 300 square kilometers.

The Fer à Cheval outfitter is not very busy at the beginning of December. Despite the first deep snow, it will take a little longer for the snowmobile trails to bring the first vacationers of the winter season.

Only residents: a small team from the Kintavar Exploration, which is completing drilling operations in the area and beginning core sampling work.

The Fer à Cheval outfitter welcomes hunters, fishermen and snowmobilers, among others.

Here at the outfitter, there are a lot of tourists. There are tourists who come from a little further and there are also tourists from the regions who come, and they always ask the same question: "When will the outfitter close? When does the mine open?", says Kiril Mugerman, president and CEO of Kintavar Exploration.

The company has been exploring the area since 2017 and purchased the outfitter three years ago. His team installed its sampling operations at the back of the building, in heated containers.

A small team is working to identify the copper content of cores extracted from the ground.A small team is working to identify the copper content of cores extracted from the ground.A small team is working to identify the copper content of cores extracted from the ground.A small team works to identify the copper content of carrots extracted from the ground.1/4A small team works to identify the copper content of carrots extracted from the ground.Photo : Radio-Canada/Yoann DénécéSee the image previousSee next image

People are afraid, they think that mining is the same as what was done fifty years ago. Everyone has the idea of ​​Val-d'Or which was in the 1960s, it was not too clean regions… Nobody liked the mining development in the regions north of Quebec, it's been fifty years, but today it's not the same.

Not all exploration leads to the opening of a mine, but the results so far are very promising, according to Kiril Mugerman, who plans to move into the development phase soon to define exactly what the mine would be. there is a mining project in the area.

For critical and strategic metals, we see a lot of interest. Here in Quebec, for example, there is no copper mine. Since the 1980s, 1990s, they have all been sold out. So we are the next wave of copper deposits, deposits of critical metals, explains the president and CEO of the company.

Copper is considered one of the “critical” materials by many governments around the world.

Copper goes into all electrical wiring in vehicles, it goes to connect all charging stations, wind stations to make electricity […], to create electric motors…

The Canadian and Quebec governments have both recently adopted plans to develop the minerals they consider critical to the energy transition and thus ensure their place in this new global economy.

It is under this snow cover that we can see one of the rocky outcrops where the mineralized copper is found.It is under this snow cover that we can see one of the rock outcrops where the mineralized copper is found.1/2It is under this snow cover that we can see one of the rock outcrops where the copper is found mineralized.Photo : Radio-Canada/Yoann DénécéSee previous imageSee next image

The Mitchi exploration zone, the most promising area of ​​Kintavar Exploration, is located a few kilometers from the outfitter and is accessible by snowmobile at this time of the year. Under the snow cover, the drill holes are almost invisible. The only clue to the presence of mining exploration are small orange flags that indicate where the cores that are now being analyzed were taken from.

A mine that blends into the background, or at least that disturbs it as little as possible, Kiril Mugerman believes that it is possible. We want to be an example for the mining industry as much as for governments. How can we develop a mine and at the same time keep everything that is ecological, environmental, functional.

Michel Newashish admits that he did not always have good ties with the other occupants of the forest.

Michel Newashish is the territory chief for the community of Manawan. His hunting camp is located near the outfitter. He comes around from time to time to discuss the progress of the project.

Whoever watches over the Nitaskinan, the ancestral territory claimed by the Atikamekw Nation, for more than 30 years, knows that it is not because the forest is large that we do not step on our feet. In the past, it was not easy to relate to non-Indigenous people, he says.

The area manager, however, welcomes the arrival of the project. He has had a good relationship with the company's vice-president of exploration, Alain Cayer, for several years now.

For me, it was natural. When you arrive at someone's house, it's normal to go knock on the door and say: “Look, I'm going to be nearby, we're going to meet this summer. […] Here are the works that I plan to do. Are there any areas that are important to you? Do you have any recommendations? Do you have people who are interested in coming to work with us?”, explains Alain Cayer.

Michel Newashish and Alain Cayer have met several times in recent years.

The company says it wants to hire Atikamekw workers when the work for the mine is more advanced. Alain Cayer is thinking of conducting meetings and training in the community of Manawan.

An interesting proposal, according to Michel Newashish, who sees it as an economic choice. In our community, there are a lot of dropouts and we want to take care of these young people and we want to send them to work somewhere and I think that, in the future, they are in the woods , they want to go into the woods.

At the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, a hundred kilometers further south and east, the chief, Sipi Flamand, reveals that he has not yet had contact with the company. However, he knows that families in the area affected by the project have been directly questioned.

The company still has time to communicate with the community of Manawan. It is a necessity if we want to start a dialogue. All companies themselves should communicate with Aboriginal communities, he comments.

Sipi Flamand was elected Chief of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan in the summer of 2022.

< p class="e-p">It is still too early in the development of the mining project for the community of Manawan to position itself in favor or against it, but it invites Kintavar Exploration to begin this process of dialogue.

Sipi Flamand recalls that section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada recognizes the ancestral rights of Indigenous peoples. His counsel also defends the notion of free, prior and informed consent, included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“There are issues that we consider important when we talk about mining projects, or energy projects. We must take into consideration the environmental aspect, the protection of biodiversity, but also the Atikamekw way of life on this territory. »

— Sipi Flamand, Chief of the Atikamekw Council

Bears, moose, medicinal plants, which are an integral part of the Atikamekw culture, are also residents of the forest.

The company is exploring different areas, including the “Mitchi” and “Wabash” areas.

A hundred kilometers further north, the Atikamekw Council of the Wemotaci community is monitoring another area explored by the Kintavar Exploration company, named Wabash. Patrick Boivin is the case manager for the land management office where the exploration project is taking place.

The rest of us, honestly, are very sensitive to that, all that is mining. It's still new for us. Usually, it's a lot of logging. Already, we are sensitive to that. It's the environment. The rest of us live in the forest, he says.

The Wemotaci community has been visited by the company's vice-president of exploration several times. This is the first time that a person like Mr. Cayer has come. He crossed the bridge here, he arrived, he announced himself, and there he came back afterwards to come and update on where he was.

The Atikamekw Council of Wemotaci was met by the company.

A transformative approach. The community believes that it was too often excluded from the projects that took place on its territory. We want to change the trend, we want to be included in the discussions, even upstream. […] We find ways to create a discussion with these people and that is the future for Wemotaci. We don't want to be the last anymore, we want to be included in the process.

For Patrick Boivin, the key is transparency and communication. The Atikamekw Council of Wemotaci will ensure that the people of the community are informed and consulted if a mining project were to materialize. It will not be us who will make the final decision.

Some 350 people live in the area of Parent in Haute-Mauricie.

In the village of Parent, a remote area attached to the municipality of La Tuque, near the Atikamekw community, residents have been hearing for some time about a mine project near their home, but the information does not filter through.

At the general store, we talk. Opinions differ: some believe that the fauna and flora of the Haut-Saint-Maurice forest have already been too disturbed. We give as an example the wolves which are more and more frequent in the heart of the village. A resident says she no longer lets her dogs out at night.

For others, the prospect of a new employer is interesting. Jobs are scarce in Parent and those left vacant attract few applicants. The hotel restaurant, the only one for miles, is still closed for lack of staff.

What is important for a sector like Parent is to attract new families to come and secure our school, our infrastructure, all those things, says sector municipal councilor Éric Chagnon.

Éric Chagnon believes that a project like Kintavar Exploration could breathe new life into the economy of the village.< /p>

The small community has a school that ends in 3rd grade. The older ones must move to La Tuque to continue their studies. Éric Chagnon would like to have the money to restore certain infrastructure in the village, but the money is not there.

“We have a sawmill, it's the main economic sector, forestry. We have tourism, we have the outfitter in season, so of course all these things, it comes to give a good economy, but another employer moreover, it would come to diversify, it is sure that it would be good from all sides. »

— Éric Chagnon, City Councillor

Kintavar Exploration is far from the cut and the arrival of a copper mine in the forest of Haut-Saint-Maurice is uncertain. Alain Cayer does not want to set a deadline, but he estimates that if the project materializes, a mine could see the light of day in less than 10 years. Today, to develop a mine, the number of permits it takes, the number of environmental assessments, the number of regulations that must be respected to open a mine, it's enormous, affirms the president and general manager of the company.

Known above all for its forest potential, the region could be conducive to the development of a open pit mine fed by several deposits, according to Kintavar Exploration.

But with the boom in mining exploration projects taking Quebec by storm, local players are making their voices heard and want answers sooner rather than later. If we are talking about reconciliation, companies must have a social conscience about the steps [they are undertaking], adds Sipi Flamand, head of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan.

There are many stakeholders that must be taken into consideration that previously were not, explains Alain Cayer. Consult local populations, Aboriginals, First Nations, involve people as much as possible. What do we want to do? Why do we want to do it? And what can it bring for future generations?

Questions that still remain unanswered, while the snow continues to fall on the forest.< /p>

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