NCN signs deal to explore mineral development in northern Manitoba

Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

A northern Manitoba First Nation has formed an official partnership with a Brazilian mining company, as the community looks to benefit from mining opportunities, but not everyone is happy about the new agreement.

On Friday, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) Chief Angela Levasseur announced an official exploration agreement with Vale Base Metals (VBM) a mining company headquartered in Brazil, but with Canadian operations based in Toronto.

According to a media release, Vale is the largest producer of iron ore and nickel in the world. It also produces manganese, ferroalloys, copper, bauxite, potash, kaolin, and cobalt, and currently operates nine hydroelectricity plants. Vale is considered the most valuable company in Latin America, with an estimated market value of $111 billion US reported in 2021.

Levasseur said the agreement signed on Friday was an “important milestone” for the northern community that is home to approximately 3,000 on-reserve and another 2,100 off-reserve members.

“This marks a significant step towards solidifying our bond with Vale for the betterment of our community and its members,” Levasseur said. “This agreement lays the cornerstone for a broader, more enriching collaboration in the future.”

NCN has commitments for regular meetings with company officials, preferential consideration for qualified NCN businesses and employment through the exploration program, an environmental monitoring program led by NCN, and a financial commitment.

“The Exploration Agreement also sets out the path forward for Vale and NCN to negotiate a comprehensive Relationships Agreement for Vale’s operations in NCN’s territory, including the ongoing, and any future mining, milling and related activities,” NCN said in a media release.

The agreement could also involve education and training, employment opportunities, business opportunities, financial participation, environmental and cultural protection, and environmental monitoring and mitigation.

“This Exploration Agreement is the starting point to a strong, generational relationship between NCN and VBM,” Vale Base Metals Director of Manitoba Operations Stacy Kennedy said. “Vale has a strong future in Manitoba, and we want to work with NCN to leave a sustainable and responsible legacy on the land for the people who have lived here for millennia.”

But not long after the agreement was signed, it was met with criticism from community member and well-known advocate for Indigenous women and girls Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, who said there was not proper consultation done with community members before the agreement was signed on Friday.

“I am deeply shocked and disturbed to discover my nation is entering into a mineral exploration agreement with Vale Base Metals for mineral exploration on our lands,” Anderson-Pyrz wrote in a Facebook post on Friday.

“It is disheartening to learn that this decision was made without any prior notification or consultation with the citizens of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. May I remind chief and council about their legal obligations and their duty to consult with its citizens?”

Levasseur says she is now asking all NCN members to inform themselves about the agreement, and to not “jump to conclusions,” and she said there will be community consultations before chief and council make further individual decisions regarding the agreement.

“NCN citizens please read the press release so you will be informed of the process. Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions is rarely wise,” Levasseur said. “This agreement merely begins the community consultation process. We have never made major decisions without consulting our people and that will never change.”

She also denied accusations that there was not community consultation done before Friday’s announcement.

“NCN first publicly announced that we were engaged in preliminary discussions with Vale in April/May of 2023. As the leadership of NCN, we work very hard to keep our citizens informed.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.