Current Problems


‘If we lose this fight, we lose everything’: Naskapi, Innu nations oppose Quebec mining project

March 8, 2023

‘This area is what’s left for us to find peace,’ says resident of Kawawachikamach

Napess Vollant, who lives in the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, says he is ready to do whatever it takes to stop Century Global’s mining project. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

CBC News: A mining company wants to set up a large operation in Labrador, producing 2.5 million tonnes of iron annually and building a transportation corridor to help get the material from northern Quebec to Sept-Îles. Century Global says its venture, which has been in the works for several years, would bring in tens of millions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs. 

Napess Vollant wants no part of it.

Vollant, who is a member of the Naskapi Nation of  Kawawachikamach — located about 1,100 kilometres from Montreal —says the project would ruin Lake Joyce and its surrounding area. It’s a traditional hunting and fishing ground. Vollant says he won’t let anything happen to it. “I am ready to get arrested for it and a lot of my friends are as well,” said Vollant.

He’s printed T-shirts and created a social media group to spread the word about the project and make sure it never gets approved. “If we lose this fight, we lost everything,” said Vollant. “This area is what’s left for us to find peace. It’s our garden… I often think about our elders who lived there.”

A family is walking.
Many people in Kawawachikamach own cabins near Lake Joyce. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)
‘They’re wasting their time’

Shane Vollant, who is both Innu and Naskapi, is one of many people who own a small cabin near Lake Joyce. “I spent most of my youth in that cabin. We’ve been hunting Canada geese every spring there for generations,” he said. “The mine would be right in front of our cabin.”

A potentially obstructed view of the lake isn’t his biggest concern, however. He’s also worried a new mine could affect the water quality in the region. “I don’t want a mine even if we’re promised work. We are the only Naskapis in the world and we only have one territory, we can’t let it go,” he said.

Theresa Chemaganish, the grand chief of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, says she shares some of the concerns from her community. “Since the beginning, we have said that the population’s opinion was important. And it’s because of this opposition that the council wants to be very transparent,” she said.

A person is smiling
Shane Vollant says he doesn’t want the mining project, even if it creates jobs in the area. (Facebook/Shane Vollant)

Réal Mckenzie, the chief of Matimekush-Lac John, which is about 10 kilometres away from Kawawachikamach, says Century Global might as well drop the project.

He won’t budge on the issue. “There’s not going to be a mine there, is that clear? That lake is sacred!” he told Radio-Canada. “They should stop giving permits to mining companies, it’s pointless… They’re wasting their time because for us, it will be a no.”

The council for the Naskapi Nation appears to be keeping more of an open mind. It says it wants to study the project’s potential effects on its territory and traditions. By law, the communities must hold public consultations. “We respect the position of the Innu and they respect ours. We just have a different approach. We will follow the process,” Chemaganish said.

After meeting with Century Global last november, the Naskapi Nation met with about 60 of its residents.

Century Global told Radio-Canada it wants to continue consulting with different Indigenous communities to “identify their concerns and come up with mitigation measures.”

A person is speaking.
Réal McKenzie, the chief of Matimekush-Lac John, says Lake Joyce is sacred and Century Global can forget about setting up a mining operation nearby. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
Environmental impact

According to Century Global, the project — if approved — would last about 10 years, including two years of construction and seven years of production.

On the federal government’s website, the only external opinion about the project comes from a group of students from the University of Waterloo. The students wrote that the project should be categorically refused because of  “its biophysical consequences and socio-economic impacts.” Century Global has questioned the students’ methodology.

There is a sign on the side of a road.
The community of Kawawachikamach is located about 1,100 kilometres away from Montreal. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

Émile Cloutier-Brassard, a mining analyst with the Montreal-based non-profit organization Eau Secours, agrees. He says the study had some shortcomings in terms of accuracy and scientific method.

But he does support the students’ position that the mining operation would drain the lake, which would affect the environment. Century Global says draining the lake “is necessary to ensure the safety of workers in the open pit mine.” The mining company promises to refill the lake during the last two years of production.

Allan Gan, who is managing the project for Century Global, says this process will make Lake Joyce deeper, larger and a healthier living environment for fish. 

“I have my doubts about the fact that a mining company can bring improvements to a territory or its environment,” Cloutier-Brassard said. “That seems counterintuitive to me.”

Debate about this project is unlikely to end anytime soon. Last July, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada gave Century Global a three-year extension to provide the studies needed for the project to be formally reviewed and, possibly, approved.


Delphine Jung,Journalist, Radio-Canada

Delphine Jung is a reporter for Radio-Canada who covers Indigenous issues, society, the environment and personal privacy.