Exploration activities for the James Bay Niobium Project are currently on pause.
On Jan. 8, NioBay Metals Inc. received a three-year permit from the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines to drill about 20 to 30 test holes near South Bluff Creek to look for deposits of niobium and determine the feasibility of a mine. Niobium is used in electronics and to strengthen steel.
The company's 2,530-hectare James Bay Project sits 45 kilometres south of Moosonee on the traditional lands of the Moose Cree First Nation.
Drilling was supposed to start in early February and expected to last for about 16 weeks.
NioBay’s vice-president of Aboriginal and governmental affairs, Derek Teevan, said the project hadn’t started yet and confirmed it’s been put on pause.
“There are numerous reasons why we've made this decision. Principal among them is our commitment to collaboration with Moose Cree First Nation. COVID, the weather and difficult conditions are also factors,” he said in a statement.
According to Moose Cree First Nation, the project was paused after NioBay's personnel used the Wetum Road corridor without authorization from chief and council.
Moose Cree’s statement reads that NioBay was allowed to access the drill sites by building a temporary winter road over existing trails.
In a statement, Moose Cree Chief Mervin Cheechoo and council expressed “deep disappointment” with NioBay’s use of Wetum Road corridor and said it directed the company to pause the drilling program.
“If and when NioBay resumes any activities in the Moose Cree homeland, those activities will only be early exploration activities,” reads the Feb. 13 statement from chief and council.
“The previously negotiated Protection Agreement remains in effect and NioBay may not move forward toward constructing any mine in the Moose Cree homeland without the support of Moose Cree membership.”
In December 2020, Moose Cree signed an updated 'protection agreement' with NioBay. The first such agreement between NioBay and Moose Cree was signed in December 2019.
The company then conducted a seven-hole drilling program between February and March 2020.
Teevan said Niobay will work with Moose Cree to determine the best approach to move the exploration forward.
“In addition, together we will develop a plan to establish an environmental baseline to ensure that we are protective of the land, water and animals in the area,” he said.