PRINCE ALBERT—The Northern Village of Pinehouse and uranium industry giants Cameco and Areva celebrated their December 2012 collaboration agreement, but Pinehouse residents and supporters from throughout Saskatchewan and beyond are taking legal action to have it annulled in court.
On June 24, a statement of claim was filed in provincial court in Prince Albert on behalf of 42 plaintiffs who are challenging the legality of the agreement and the lack of consultation in Pinehouse, a primarily Métis community located 500 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
Along with collaboration agreement signatories Cameco, Areva, the Northern Village of Pinehouse and Kineepik Métis Local #9, Pinehouse mayor Mike Natomagan, Kineepik official Vince Natomagan and the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada are named as defendants. The statement of claim also addresses intimidation by local leaders in Pinehouse and the devastating impacts of the uranium industry in northern Saskatchewan.
“They talk about prosperity and money coming into town, but they have a fixed view of what they would like to see and it seems to exclude everybody else,” said Dale Smith, a Pinehouse resident and plaintiff in the case.
The agreement was only brought to local residents last November, despite longstanding negotiations between municipal and company officials and lawyers. Touted as a multi-million dollar deal providing contracts and other support over an extended period, the collaboration agreement includes Pinehouse and Kineepik support for existing, upcoming and future uranium mining projects owned by Cameco and Areva.
Only a Summary of Terms was presented to the community prior to the December 12, 2012 signing. The document originally contained a ‘gag order’ clause, which sparked widespread alarm.
“When we wanted the original document—contract—they wouldn’t give it to us until after they signed the collaboration agreement. There was absolutely no consultation except for one or two days when they brought it and told the people what they are going to do,” Pinehouse resident and plaintiff Fred Pederson told the Media Co-op in an interview in Prince Albert after the statement of claim was filed.
“You don’t buy a truck unseen. You don’t make a deal for a truck until you see it [and] you know what you’re buying," said Pederson. "Because if they say we’ll sell you this truck, it’s in really good shape, but we’re not gonna show it to you until you sign for it, after you sign the agreement, they might send you a real big truck, a nice big truck that’s in good shape. But it might just be a little toy truck.”
Meetings behind closed doors and a lack of consultation have become a pattern in Pinehouse, says Pederson. Similar concerns have been raised about Pinehouse’s participation in the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) site selection process in its search for a host community for the spent fuel bundles from nuclear reactors in eastern Canada. Pederson and other outspoken opponents of the nuclear industry say they have also faced intimidation, harassment and threats from the local leadership.
“They’re supposed to be trusted, elected leaders. They’re supposed to [consult] the town,” said Pederson. “My hope is that [the legal action] will hopefully straighten out some of the dishonesty and stuff that has been going on with our leaders in Pinehouse. Because they have been pushing us down, pushing us down, pushing us down.”
The atmosphere outside the courthouse, where several plaintiffs had gathered in anticipation of the filing, was one of celebration. Dale Smith was happy that the statement of claim had been filed, but was also hesitant about the reactions and consequences he and others may face in their home community.
“It’s a big relief because I kind of sense that one chapter is over and it’s been a very interesting experience,” Smith told the Media Co-op. “Because of the close-knit community that I live in and having to go this far to hold onto my identity as a resident, as a Native person, as a father and a husband and to be accountable to live in a community and having to face taking them to court—both my own Native, my Aboriginal relations, I guess, as well as family members—it’s gonna be a life-changing experience at this level, for me.”
The increasing involvement of the uranium and nuclear industries directly in community affairs has led to divisions and tensions in the community and even within families, including their own, said both Pederson and Smith. The Pinehouse plaintiffs fully expect to face consequences in their home community due to their participation in the legal action.
“I can sense a struggle with how to cope with the reality I’m about to face with my own people, my own family,” said Smith.
Pederson, an energetic elder in his 70s, is less hesitant. “This shit’s gonna hit the fan. And yes, we feel that we’re going to be criticized and run down because we’re going against it. I have no fear of that,” he said.
With the Millennium and Midwest uranium projects on the horizon, the Pinehouse and other collaborations agreements paving the way for unchallenged expansion of the uranium industry in northern Saskatchewan are urgent matters for affected community residents questioning their impacts. Cameco and Areva also signed a collaboration agreement with English River First Nation last month, on May 31, despite widespread opposition from within the community both before and during the signing ceremony.
Dozens of supporters from throughout Saskatchewan and out of province signed onto the statement of claim as plaintiffs.
“The implications of these illegal agreements extend far beyond the borders of the communities with whom these corporations are making their backroom deals,” said Jim Harding, a retired professor of environmental and justice studies, according to a June 25 press release. “If we allow this attack on democratic process to continue unchecked in any one of our communities, what’s to stop this from happening in your hometown?”
Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist currently based in northern Saskatchewan.