Canada's iron ore heartland once more hit by First Nation blockade
It still isn't clear what is at stake as protesters continue to block access to iron ore mine sites on the Quebec side of the Labrador Trough.
Posted: Wednesday , 04 Jul 2012
HALIFAX, NS (MINEWEB) -
A group of protesters continued to block road access to iron ore mining projects near Schefferville, Québec, including Labrador Iron Mines' (TSX: LIM) operating James Mine and New Millenium Iron's iron ore projects, but the message they are trying to send was still not clear on Wednesday.
Two key questions remained unanswered five-or so days into the blockade: what exactly is the protester's message? And, was the blockade sanctioned by any of the local aboriginal councils in Schefferville, chief among them the Matimekush-Lac John and Kawawachikamach First Nation communities in Québec?
Though the blockade appeared to dominate the agenda of top members of the local aboriginal government in the Schefferville area on Wednesday, no one contacted by Mineweb would comment on the specifics of the protest.
The chief of the Schefferville-area Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, Louis Einish, said, "I can't give anything yet."
Einish said he needed to consult with other First Nations about the blockade before commenting.
Likewise, in phone calls to various band and band-related offices in the Schefferville area on Wednesday, while all were aware of the blockade, no one would comment on it.
"Yes," said an assistant at the Naskapi Police Force in answer to whether she was aware of the protest. Did she know what they were protesting? "I can't answer questions," she quickly added.
Labrador Iron Mines said it was still just as much in the dark on Wednesday as it was on Tuesday when it issued a press release saying what little it knew about the blockade. Labrador Iron Mines spokesperson Keren Yun said it had not made any progress in making contact with local community groups to get a better idea of the reason behind the protests.
"We're still trying to get a hold of the local community groups," Yun said, adding that they were taking a non-confrontational approach in making contact and inquiries.
She re-iterated Labrador Iron Mines official position from Tuesday that the protesters were not sanctioned by the local aboriginal councils and that it was still not clear what blockaders were protesting. Yun said the protesters appeared to be holding signs with messages against the Québec government's Plan Nord, which is a provincial government initiative to spur economic growth in the province's vast northern lands, home to scores of small aboriginal communities.
This is not the first time protests and blockades have hit iron ore projects in the area. Two years ago a group of aboriginal councils, including the Matimekush, took part in a similar blockade, barring access to mining projects near Schefferville in protest of lack of consultation with aboriginals over development.
Back then the Matimekush-Lac John First Nation stated: "We have never ceded, abandoned or renounced our aboriginal rights or our aboriginal title. The governments therefore have the constitutional obligation to consult us and to accommodate our rights and interests."
Subsequent to that protest the Matimekush and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach signed impact benefit agreements with Labrador Iron Mines, Yun said. While acknowledging the issues on the ground were still unclear, Yun also said that "We're inclined to believe it's more to do with Plan Nord" than more specific issues as regards Labrador Iron Mines.
Einish, chief of the Kawawachikamach First Nation, would not confirm whether the protest was about Plan Nord in particular. Again he said that he and other council members needed to consult before commenting.
As of presstime Matimekush Chief Real McKenzie could not be reached at the Matimekush council office.
Labrador Iron Mines said on Tuesday the protest would not impact sales in July from its James mine. However, it said that "it does have the potential to impact the company if the protest continues for a protracted period of time."
Labrador Iron Mines has a direct rail link to Sept-Iles to which, despite the blockade, it can still ship iron ore.
The CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, said 50 protesters had been at the blockade since Friday, although it did not attribute a source to the estimate.