PATUANAK, Sask. – Uranium giants Cameco and Areva have reached a $600-million deal with a Saskatchewan First Nation that supports their mining operations and drops a lawsuit over land near the proposed Millennium project.
The collaborative agreement is with the English River First Nation, a band of more than 1,000 people who live on seven small reserves in the province’s northwest. Another 400 people live off-reserve.
“This introduces a level of stability and predictability around employment, business training and community investment and environmental stewardship,” Cameco vice-president Gary Merasty said Thursday.
“This is a little more certainty around project development. If there is a lawsuit hanging over, you know that introduces a level of risk to the project.”
A formal signing ceremony is to be held Friday in the community of Patuanak, about 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
Most of the money is to flow to the First Nation over 10 years through contracts with band-owned businesses and wages to band members, who are expected to work at the mines and on community development projects.
There are also to be direct payments to the community for education, health, sports and recreation programs.
English River vice-chief Marie Black said the deal will help the Dene band become more self-sufficient and less reliant on the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
“It is very, very important that we go ahead and work with industry. This is for jobs,” Black said.
Some English River members are worried about the environmental consequences of more uranium mining in the area. They say a decision on the deal was made by band council without a community vote.
The agreement states the deal will be worth significantly more to the band beyond 10 years, including if Cameco Corp.’s (TSX:COO) Millennium project goes ahead.
The proposed underground mine, which still requires environmental approval, is estimated to contain more than 50 million pounds of uranium.
Saskatoon-based Cameco, the largest uranium producer in the world, plans to submit its final environmental impact application for Millennium to regulators later this year.
Last June, Cameco purchased Areva Resources Canada Inc.’s 28 per cent interest in the Millennium project for $150 million.
Areva is the world’s second-largest uranium producer.
Both corporations have uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan.
The agreement says the First Nation agrees to drop a lawsuit it filed in 2008 against the Saskatchewan government over land the band claimed under the 1992 Treaty Land Entitlement Framework.
“The lands in question included those on which Cameco hopes to develop its Millennium project,” reads the deal.
“English River First Nation has decided that based on the substantial benefits and commitments it has negotiated under the collaboration agreement, it is in their best interest to agree under the terms to discontinue the … lawsuit so as to help ensure the timely development of the Millennium project.”
Candyce Paul, who works as a teaching assistant at La Plonge reserve, said some people are concerned and want more information on how increased uranium mining will affect human health, wildlife and the land.
Many people supported the court case and haven’t been given enough of an explanation about why it is being dropped, she said.
There are also questions about how many jobs will be created and who will get them.
Paul said a “trickle-down” approach could mean that some people won’t be better off under the agreement.
“The benefits they are talking about are all financial, but the cultural devastation and the environmental devastation is what the people are concerned about,” she said.
“They will clean out our area and leave a mess. This is temporary money.”
Cameco said one of the benefits of the agreement is that it will help people and businesses develop skills and experience they can use well into the future.
The corporation said its environmental footprint in northern Saskatchewan is tiny and once its mines stop producing the sites will be fully decommissioned.
Japan’s JCU Exploration Co. has a 30.1 per cent stake in Millennium.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton