Algonquin Communities Push for Joint Review for Matamec’s Rare Earths Project Under New Federal Environmental Assessment Rules

Ramsey Hart

Canada Program Coordinator, 2008-2014

For the past two years MiningWatch Canada has been collaborating with Wolf Lake and Eagle Village Algonquin First Nations as they grapple with a proposed rare earths mine. Matamec Explorations Inc. is proposing the construction of a 4,200 tonne per day open pit rare earth mine in the traditional territory of the First Nations who are insisting the project undergo a joint Canada-Algonquin review panel.

One of the first challenges was to get Matamec to acknowledge its responsibility to the Algonquin communities under Canadian and international law. On Algonquin territory Quebec has failed to meet its requirements for the protection of Indigenous rights so it took some work to get Matamec to engage with the communities. Eventually an agreement between the company and the First Nations was reached under which the First Nations are conducting their own social impact assessment and able to hire their own technical review team at Matamec’s expense. Negotiations continue for a more global agreement about the project and exploration in the surrounding area. Since signing the first memorandum of understanding progress on the subsequent agreements has been slow – yet Matamec repeatedly comments on having signed the MOU in their public communications.

The deposit that Matamec hopes to exploit is very near the Kipawa River and to numerous sites of historic and ongoing use by the Algonquin. The socio-economic impact study that is being drafted by Wolf Lake and Eagle Village will document the extent of current use of the area and the values that the land in the area has for them.

Because the project was over the threshold to trigger a federal environmental assessment  (3000 tonnes per day), the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency initiated a review in April. Draft guidelines were issued and comments on these were filed. But the First Nations do not think the “standard” federal process will meet their needs. There is a tremendous amount of concern about the project in the communities and a process that occurs solely through written submissions and does not have the advantage of an independent panel is seen as inadequate. In May the First Nations wrote Environment Minister Peter Kent with a proposal for a joint review panel.

Though public pressure is mounting for a Quebec environmental assessment process or BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques), the current law excludes the project as it has a higher threshold than the federal law. At a recent public meeting Ugo Lapointe of the Coalition Quebec meilleure mine and many local residents in the audience urged the company to support a BAPE process. The company demurred saying it would do what was required by the law.

Section 38 of the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) provides for the creation of a joint review panel with Aboriginal governments. The Algonquin Nations are insisting on a process that recognises the nation-to-nation relationship they have with the federal government. They want to co-develop guidelines and terms of reference for the review and appoint their own representative to the independent panel reviewing the project. If successful this would be the first use of this section of the Act.

MiningWatch has been supporting the demand for a joint review panel and has filed comments on the draft guidelines issued unilaterally by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. We were also pleased to put the Algonquin communities in touch with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation which has been reviewing a rare earths project proposed by Avalon Resources near the shores of Great Slave Lake.

MiningWatch has posted a variety of background materials on rare earth elements here.

Documents can be found on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency web site.