Why is Kanehsatake, a little community with less than 1,000 people, so important to the Canadian government?

Editor's Note. The Mohawk Nation is a sovereign nation that is part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy [an alliance of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations]. The Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs is at Akwesasne. There is also a branch of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake.

Mohawk Nation News (13 March 2005) -- WHY ARE Canadian government officials pouring millions of dollars into propaganda against popular government in Kanehsatake? The Mohawk Nation has been asking this for sometime. Could the answer be niobium?

Niocan is a Canadian mining company founded in 1995. It quarries for niobium, a rare talc-like mineral that is used in the production of steel and superalloys. Only two mines exist in the world, one is in South Africa. The other is in Kanehsatake.

Steven Bonspille headed the opposition to the mine before he went on council. During February 2002 James Gabriel was in court fighting the "no-confidence" vote that kicked him off council. At this time the Mohawk Council of Kanehsatake took the opportunity to pass a resolution to protect their traditional territory from the pollution and degradation that would be caused by exploitation of this mine. This is why Indian Affairs hates Steven Bonspille.

The Mohawks demanded a full environmental assessment be conducted by Quebec and the federal government. Eventually James Gabriel was reinstated on the council by a court order. He could not rescind the resolution. He did make some secret deals and the people and council members are still trying to find out what they are.

The resolution stated that "the Mohawk Council will continue to oppose this project through all means available to us."

Niocan is proposing an underground niobium mine close to a closed columbium mine that had been operated by St. Lawrence Columbium. This mine was exempt from environmental assessments because its production was so small.

The niobium mines continues to be protested. It will have an impact on over 25 sq. kms. of agricultural land which markets directly to the city of Montreal. This is all part of the traditional territory of the Mohawks of Kanehsatake.

Isotopes of radium, polonium and other radioactive materials, including radium-226, lead-210 and thorium-230, will be left behind in the large volumes of radioactive wastes. These will be left over from the mining operations in slag and tailings. Niocan intends to use water from the processing to irrigate farmers' fields. Niocan's Environmental Impact Study did not include any expertise on radioactivity. The company does not have a management plan for dealing with these effects.


A referendum was carried out by the Parish of Oka, with more than 60% opposing the mine. Then the municipality hired Donat Bilodeau. He found that the mine would have a worse effect on the aquifers than Niocan had predicted. Then the Mohawk Council became involved. They hired lawyers and consultants and opposed the mine in court. The Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Territory of Quebec (CPTAQ) appealed to allow the mine to proceed.

The main concern is radioactivity, Aboriginal and fiduciary rights and the location of the mine near a major river and major population centre.

Mohawk concerns are as follows:

1. The mine will be on Mohawk lands which are part of their current land claims negotiations with Canada.

2. The Mohawks are absolutely opposed to the mine.

3. Niocan has not done a proper assessment. Damages have been ignored by the company.

4. The mine will deplete and lower the underground water table. The mine and the farmers will compete for water in the area. This will affect both surface and underground water supplies, fauna, flora and agriculture in the area.

5. Niobium is radioactive, containing high levels of uranium and thorium, along with 36 different radioactive by-products.

6. The mining process will stir up the ore body and release uranium, polonium, thorium and their radioactive by-products into the air and water, as well as radon gas. Niocan's Environmental Assessment fails to mention these.

7. Mining residues will be buried within two mine pits and the old St. Lawrence Columbium mine pit. Both surface and underground waters will be in direct contact with these radioactive residues.

8. Although there will be room to bury the slag, almost all the sandy radioactive residues will be left behind. The 6.5 million tons of tailings and waste rock will be added to the old ones.

Many areas in Northern Canada have been irrevocably poisoned because similar treatments of mine tailings failed to contain destructive materials.

Niocan's response in October 2000 to the MiningWatch Canada website posting:

* They claimed the mine will all be underground so there will be no pile of waste rock. They mentioned no methods for containing water seepage and other natural processes that occur underground;

* They claimed the tailings from the mine meet the BNQ requirements for soil use and they are not radioactive;

* Accordiing to them, mining has nothing to do with producing radon gas. Any increase of radon gas associated with their operations would be purely coincidental;

* Quebec has provided an equity investment of $427,000 out of $6 million in private money invested in the project.

The Mohawks, MiningWatch Canada and the farmers of Oka have all demanded that there be a full environmental assessment. Is this why $17,000 a month is being spent on public relations to defame the people of Kanehsatake? Indian Affairs promotes a guy whose connections with a convicted criminal, Richard Walsh, are well known. Otherwise it just doesn't compute.

Military-Industrial Use

It is obvious that the Mohawk and public are against this mine. Can you imagine all that release of poisons in the middle of a residential farming community right on the outskirts of the city of Montreal that is already suffering from pollution? What is this metal used for? The prime use is for arms and other products of the military-industrial complex. The real threat is not just Kanehsatake. It threatens the populations of Montreal and the world. Everytime something crashes through the atmosphere it is damaged beyond repair.

Not only would the Canadian public object to this project if they knew about it, so would the rest of the world.

You may reprint or send around this article. Please credit as follows: Kahentinetha Horn, MNN Mohawk Nation News, Feb. 20, 2005, orakwa@paulcomm.ca

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