Snapshots

Algonquin First Nations Have Serious Concerns About Proposed Rare Earth Mine on Traditional Lands

Two Algonquin First Nations in western Quebec are raising concerns about a proposed rare earth open pit mine on their traditional lands. In a joint press statement, Wolf Lake and Eagle Village First Nation explain that Matamec Explorations Inc., wants to develop a yttrium-zirconium mine at what they call the Zeus Site, located 90km north-east of North Bay, Ontario. Yttrium and zirconium are two of seventeen minerals classified as "Rare Earth Elements" (REEs) "This proposed mine site is located on the traditional lands of our two Algonquin First Nations," the statement reads.

As such, “On April 17, 2012, our two Algonquin First Nation governments met with Matamec Explorations Inc. as part of an ongoing negotiation process regarding a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).”

The statement continues, “The main purpose of the MOU is to ensure that Matamec directly consults our two First Nations during the advanced exploration phase of the proposed mine and that Matamec agrees to cover the costs of our two First Nations’ social and cultural impact studies, as well as the costs of our independent experts to oversee the results of Matamec’s feasibility and environmental studies.”

The two First Nations point to the sizable controversy surrounding rare earth mining and processing, which tends to have severe environmental impacts. By themselves, most rare earth metals are actually quite harmless; however, they are often accompanied by radioactive substances like thorium and uranium–and therein lies the danger. The process of separating REEs from other minerals can produce massive amounts of toxic waste.

As an example, the two First Nations mention the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California. The mine, formerly owned by Unocal/Chevron, was shut down in 2002 after a long series of waste water spills. Over the course of 14 years, there were 60 recorded spills which overall introduced 600,000 gallons of radioactive waste water into the sensitive Mojave desert ecosystem.

The impacts of rare earth mining have been far worse overseas, particularly in China, which has maintained a monopoly on rare earth mining for many years.

There is also a massive protest campaign right now against an Australian mining company that wants to build a rare earth refining facility at Kuantan in Malaysia. Similar facilities in Mongolia have turned once-pristine environments into cancer-causing wastelands.

According to Mamatec’s website, the Zeus site has a total of seven rare earth deposits, mostly consisting of Neodymium, Europium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Yttrium and Zirconium. There are also deposits of uranium and gold.

Eagle Village Chief, Madeleine Paul, stated “our two First Nation governments want to have an accurate understanding of the environmental impacts of building, operating and reclaiming the Zeus mine, including the associated processing and other facilities. We also want to ensure the project is manageable and represents low impacts before we consider supporting the development of the Rare Earth Element open pit mine.”

FULL ARTICLE: Algonquin First Nations Have Serious Concerns About Proposed Rare Earth Mine on Traditional Lands.

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