"We embrace and welcome development, provided that we are immediate beneficiaries and that our rights in the territory are respected."
Can you please provide us with an overview of your mission and activities since the Secretariat's founding in 2002?
At the time, the Cree Nation and government of Québec entered into an agreement that involved a hydroelectric development in the Cree-territory. There was a commitment by Hydro Québec to set aside out-of-tender negotiated contracts. For these high-value contracts, I sent a team of people to Val-d’Or to talk to the mayor about a good way to approach this challenge. The idea was to find a way to address the delivery of those contracts; the mayor’s suggestion was to host a conference, which is how the Secretariat was born.
We organized a conference of 300 people with the simple idea to initiate a conversation between the Cree leaders and the business community. The event was a success, especially because the networking aspect was appreciated in a time of economic downturn. Subsequently, it was suggested that we set up an organization for that purpose. Today the Secretariat is a non-profit organization aimed at establishing contacts across the territories. We plan meetings with organizations and businesses, which allows them to evaluate potential pathways forward as well as to reflect on strategic alliances. The kick-off for us was the completion of the C$450 million contracts, and today we enjoy great support from the municipalities, the Cree Nation the Government of Québec and theFederal government
What is your continuous role in the mining industry today?
In the past, we have organized one major conference a year. Each such gathering is based on a theme – during the first year it was hydroelectric development. Through good collaborations between the Cree Mineral Exploration Board (CMEB) and the Secretariat, we have promoted awareness in mineral exploration since 2003. This is definitely a great opportunity to get informed about the development and mining activities in Northern Québec. Today, our spectrum of engagements and themes have broadened and the composition of the Secretariat is both Cree and non-Cree.
Could you tell us a little about your environmental engagement?
All the development in the territory is subject to environmental impact review and assessment within the framework outlined in the Northern Québec agreement. It was necessary to harmonize all three levels of regulation; Cree, Québec and federal. The environmental regime makes it compulsory for all entities to submit a pre-feasibility study before initiating a project that outlines how environmental issues will be dealt with. There is a marked-out territory that is covered by the regime and different categories within this marked territory. The regime is airtight to ensure compliance, and companies operating in the area cannot move forward without authorized certification.
Where do you see room for improvement on the environmental side?
Today, the environmental regime is about 44 years old, and it was created at a time when there were few environmental concerns in Québec. It may be time to review the environmental regime, if all parties agree; however, today a comprehensive framework exists, and I cannot see any particular weaknesses that should be addressed.
What is your experience working with the Québec government?
We are in frequent contact with the government regarding environmental issues, as our recommendations go through the Québec environmental administrator. Our relationship has been mutually beneficial, and we have found a good balance whereby the Crees are open for development, but any such initiatives must be underpinned by environmental responsibility. One of the key conditions is that before a certificate can be issued, the environmental committee must be assured that the local community has been adequately informed and that proper negotiations and agreements have taken place. Due to this procedure, we eventually come in contact with every mining company in the area.
What would you want to tell our readers and possible investors?
We embrace and welcome development, provided that we are immediate beneficiaries and that our rights in the territory are respected.