The English River First Nation said it cannot support a 20-year licence renewal for Cameco’s Key Lake, McArthur River and Rabbit Lake facilities. The First Nation called the request a generational licence. The recent re-opening of Key Lake and McArthur River, shows the need for uranium production is trending upward.

English River said it was concerned this would incentivize the uranium industry to aggressively increase activity. The opposition to a 20-year licence comes as the political landscape for First Nations is changing. English River cited the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and how the federal government views its relationship with First Nations.

“Implementing UNDRIP in Canada will require a meaningful re-balancing and restructuring of applicable rights, controls, and responsibilities between the Crown and First Nations. In our view, this general reconciliation and nation-building project is, again, formative; in 2023 we are very likely in a much different place on such matters than we will be in 2033, let alone 2043,” stated the First Nation in a written submission.

“We note Article 26 of UNDRIP which requires that “Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use…”. We also note Article 32.2 of UNDRIP which includes a requirement that Canada must obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples “prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources”.” 

English River recommended to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission issue a licence of five-to-seven years, wanting to see significant enhancements for oversight and support. Throughout the two-day hearings Cameco stated several times that it plans no significant changes to its operations during the next licencing period.

“No new activities are proposed with our 20-year licence term. The current activities are well understood and we will continue to operate within the licencing basis,” said Liam Mooney, Vice President, Safety, Health, Environment & Quality and Regulatory Relations with Cameco. Mooney said Cameco supports the principles of UNDRIP, as it is being put into Collaboration Agreements and its relationships with Indigenous groups.

English River said its relationship with Cameco is not as strong as it once was, citing a need for a “re-set.”

“In the coming months, ERFN is hopeful that Cameco will work closely with ERFN to review the terms of their Collaboration Agreement, and (a) materially increase the levels of support/investment that Cameco provides ERFN, and (b) look towards better and more meaningful ways of involving ERFN in its environmental stewardship functions.”

Kristin Cuddington, Manager of Community and Indigenous Engagement stated Cameco is in the process of reviewing its Collaboration Agreement with English River to better understand the First Nations concerns.

Sean Willy, President of the Des Nedhe Development Group, the economic arm of the English River First Nation, supports a licence renewal for Cameco, but also supports the position of the First Nation and its desire to re-work the Collaboration Agreement.