After years of development and negotiation, a gathering of investors, workers and political leaders finally inaugurated Goldcorp’s Éléonore mine last month.
Operations at the site 300 km east of Wemindji have been in full swing since April. The July 30 ceremony highlighted Goldcorp’s collaboration with local Crees throughout the mine’s development phase. Notably, Cree negotiators and Goldcorp executives praised the contributions of the late Michael Mayappo, the tallyman for the Opinaca region where the Éléonore project is located. From 2006 until his passing in 2012, Mayappo dedicated himself to ensuring that a balance could be reached between Cree traditional activities and mining work in the territory.
At the ceremony, the Cree Nation Government’s negotiator John Paul Murdoch unveiled a mural of the tallyman in the site’s accommodation complex, which has accordingly been named Camp Michael Mayappo.
“He always encouraged everyone to work together,” Mayappo’s widow, Louise, told the crowd in Cree. “If he was here today, this is what he would say to us.”
An emotional Murdoch talked with the Nation about Mayappo’s life and his impact on the Eléonore project.
“I don’t think the Cree Nation could have had a better ambassador,” said Murdoch. “He was an incredibly open person who was very trusting, but also firm. When you’re talking about someone from the land, who knows the land, who knows the animals… with Michael you could just feel it. Without him, our negotiations, this agreement, this mine wouldn’t have been possible.”
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come hailed the Éléonore project as an economic and environmentally sustainable opportunity for Wemindji.
“Goldcorp recognizes and respects the traditional authority of the tallymen,” said Coon Come. “This agreement shows that they recognize the importance of the management of Cree traditional activities on the affected trapline.”
Goldcorp’s collaboration with the Crees appears to be a departure from the company’s controversial history with Indigenous populations in Central America. Human rights groups criticized the company in 2010 over allegations of environmental and cultural abuse in Guatemala. But Cree leaders lauded the Éléonore project as a model for future collaborations between industry and First Nations.
The impact benefit terms reached by Goldcorp and Wemindji are outlined in the Opinagaw Collaboration Agreement. It promotes training, hiring and advancement of Cree workers at the Éléonore mine. Currently, the mine employs 1,265 people, of which 21% self-identify as Aboriginal.
A number of cultural and social programs are in place, including a teepee for employee gatherings. And Murdoch told the Nation that local tallymen played an important role in the development of the mine.
“I hope that what people saw here today is that the Cree Nation is an active participant in this project,” said Murdoch. “We’re pushing this forward, we’re going to be part of the standards, the monitoring and the management. It goes beyond simple social acceptability, it’s about participation.”