Uranium Development in Northern Saskatchewan


With the advent of Treaties 8 and 10, the vast resources of Northern Saskatchewan became available to exploit by the federal, and later the provincial governments (Quiring 2004, 40). However, much like many other dealings between First Nations people and the Canadian governments, a regime of exploitation established itself. In the case of resources in Northern Saskatchewan, so-called “co-management” regimes have been established. In principle, these structures are designed to incorporate First Nations people into decision making and benefit sharing processes, but in fact the opposite has occurred. According to Castro and Nielson “national laws, policies, and administrative structures continue to favor centralized control” (Castro and Neilson 2001, 236). In other words, colonial control. Again, according to Castro and Nielson “At the less participatory end of the scale are advisory councils, review committees, and other forums aimed solely at public consultation with state resource managers” (Castro and Nielson 201, 235). This type of organization limits the control and input that Indigenous people have in relation to their resources. An example of this type of organization can be found in the Northern Saskatchewan Environmental Quality Committee, or the NSEQC. According to Bethany Haalboom, the NSEQC “…has no regulatory responsibilities, with its ‘...function primarily to receive, evaluate and transmit information and recommendations... to exert influence on the way in which development occurs’” (Haalboom 2014, 283). Haalboom notes that while attending meetings of the committee from 2010 to 2012, various grievances were aired by First Nations representatives. While discussing a plan to transport uranium slurry by road, one representative notes that “Is there experience anywhere in the world with a spill of slurry or yellowcake? They mentioned the ship from Vancouver. These are rough roads—you keep emphasizing that the containers won’t break, but too many times you’re proven wrong; 1/17000 years chance of a spill, but what’s happening in Japan right now? I wonder what they were telling their people. Man can’t really predict—it can’t be guaranteed, ever.” In response, the industrial representative that was being addressed stated: “There have been spills in Saskatchewan and other places like Niger. We remediated and cleaned up, and satisfied regulators we had not injured wildlife and plants. We have measures in place so we never repeat these...risk is inherent to life on this earth, so it’s up to us to evaluate how much risk we’re willing to take. That’s why we come to talk to you...I would encourage you to follow the International Atomic Energy Agency website. The ship was brought back to Vancouver. The Cameco website has a clear update on what happened to that ship. There is also the CNSC website” (Haalboom 2014, 285). Other concerns were put forward concerned employment. According to one Aboriginal representative ““The north is where we make our living. You take these [environmental] risks at our cost, and we’re getting a few jobs. It’s not enough. We should get more, because we are taking a big risk to allow you to exploit our territories” (Haalboom 2014, 286). In general, a climate of distrust pervaded, as exemplified in this quote “Industry is always giving us these reports, but how much do they cover up? How much money is going to the SK government from industry? Northern people are going to be left with the ruins!” (Haalboom, 2016, 286).

The implications of resource development in Northern Saskatchewan can be examined through the lens of economic colonization of Aboriginal peoples in Northern Saskatchewan. According to statistics provided by Haalboom from 2012, the employment of uranium production company Cameco in Northern Saskatchewan consisted of 50.2 per cent of its employees being from the North, however only 41 per cent of that total were Aboriginal. Furthermore, the positions that First Nations held were entry level positions (Haalboom 2014, 287). As stated in the summary portion of this entry, there is a general feeling that work opportunities are not fairly distributed to Aboriginal peoples, with disastrous results. Citing Haalbooom, “…the long-term unemployment rates of northerners is four times that of the provincial rate, and in 2006 the median income of northerners was 60 percent that of the province” (Haalboom 2014, 287). With few job opportunities available to people in the North, poverty is the result. Citing Miles Corak “Children raised by low income parents are more likely to be low income adults when they are raised in regions with higher poverty rates” (Corak 2017, 34). Furthermore, Corak states that these low economic mobility areas “…tend to be outside of urban areas, distant from poles of growth….” (Corak 2017, 40) This combination of a lack of jobs, and low socioeconomic status for those employed, creates a colonial and exploitative structure, where those most affected see the least amount of benefit, while owners reap the rewards. This situation creates a cycle of poverty, which is to the benefit of the colonizer. Again, citing Haalboom, one Aboriginal representative of the NSEQC notes that “And the thing is you’re taking the resources, and what do we get in return? It’s nothing. Basically my Nation’s broke...” (Haalboom 2014, 287).
1899-06-21 and 1906-07-19