Battle brewing over niobium mine bid near James Bay – by Ainslie Cruickshank (Toronto Star – July 30, 2017)

Moose Cree First Nation says protecting lands could help Canada meet climate, UN biodiversity commitments.

A battle is brewing just south of James Bay between Moose Cree First Nation and a resource company that wants to develop the world’s next niobium mine in the heart of its traditional territory.

For now, NioBay Metal Inc. wants a drilling permit to confirm the results of an exploration program undertaken in the 1960s. Down the road, the company has plans to develop an underground mine to produce niobium, a metal that helps make lighter, stronger steel.

NioBay says the mine will cause minimal environmental damage and offers big benefits for Moose Cree, but the First Nation fears otherwise. The proposed mine site sits near the shore of the South Bluff Creek, a culturally significant area for Moose Cree members that borders the North French River Watershed, a region they consider protected. Now, they want the province to protect it too.

The company’s President and CEO Claude Dufresne, meanwhile, said Moose Cree members aren’t in a position to make a decision about the project because NioBay hasn’t been allowed to make its pitch in the community. From a global economic perspective niobium is critical, he said.

The metal is used in the construction of cars, high rises, bridges, jet engines, and MRIs, but most of the production comes from only three mines in the world – one in Quebec and two in Brazil. Its significance to the U.S. became clear in 2010, when it appeared more than once in a diplomatic cable, leaked by WikiLeaks, outlining 300 foreign infrastructure and resource sites considered critical to U.S. interests.

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