By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric
Chapter 34 – The mine
So far: Wayne headed off to college in London, Ontario. On his mission from Manitou, he meets new friends, both four-legged and two-legged ones. He gets a ride back north for Thanksgiving, and Ginny’s House II starts to become a reality.
Soon after Thanksgiving Neil Audette’s divorce was finalized in Thunder Bay, and as soon as Nick and he returned home, they started working on the mine in earnest. Neil took his samples to an assay place he knew in Sudbury, and it was not long before word got out about the new gold strike in Northern Ontario.
Within a couple of days there were strange faces in town, as prospectors were clambering over the terrain to see if more gold could be found. It was clear to those on the reservation that there would be no more gold to be found, but the outsiders didn’t know that, and they spent more than a month tramping over the countryside.
The reserve was off limits, however. Nick had secured the mineral rights to the entire reserve with the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, which gave the band the right to limit exploration within its boundaries. Of course, that didn’t stop the prospectors from trying. It was the people’s partnership with the wolves that did that. Any prospector wandering (accidentally or not) onto reserve land soon had a wolf urging him on his way.
But the individual prospectors were not the problem. They provided a bit of excitement to sleepy St. Mary’s, and the money they spent in the store and the tavern were certainly welcomed. It was the men in suits that were more of a bother.
No less than three different mining companies approached the band, offering to buy the mineral rights. A session was set up to allow the various representatives to make their pitches.
The evening the meeting was held in the high school nine elders, including River, and the four members of the band council who were not elders listened to the presentations.
Northern Mining and Manufacturing went first, offering $100,000 cash, and a 25% royalty on all gold extracted. Nick was present as band legal representative, and asked the pointed questions.
“You mention royalties on gold. What are the royalties on other minerals extracted?”
“Most of the rest of the materials will be worthless slag,” the representative said. “There will be no royalties on that.”
“True, most of the material is slag, but our sources indicate that there is substantial silver in the ore, and there may be other useful minerals, like copper or nickel.”
The suit was flustered. He had not expected to face such a savvy lawyer at a remote northern reserve. “We tend to use the value of other minerals to offset costs of mining.”
“To increase your profits, in other words,” Nick offered, and the man didn’t dispute it. “What type of mining process will you use?”
“The most efficient process is to strip mine,” the man said. “The overburden is removed to the depth of the seam, and the ore is extracted. The overburden is generally stored offsite, creating a small hill that could be used for recreational purposes.”
“Sounds like a garbage mound to me,” Nick said. “Why not return the overburden to the original site?”
“That can’t be done,” the man said. “You can’t put the overburden back when the mine is still active. And to replace it later is just wasteful, moving it a second time when there is no further profit in it. You could use the hill for skiing, cross-country, and hiking in season. It could be a great asset to the community.”
“I see. And the gold seam appears to run under the river. How would that be removed?”
“That is not difficult,” the man in the grey suit said. “It is just a matter of relocating the river.” River gasped when she heard that. “We just divert the water course, probably a few miles up, and provide it with a new outlet to the lake. The land where the mine is will eventually fill up and provide a beautiful lake.”
“What will that do to the harbor in town?” Nick asked.
“It should cause no problems,” the man said. “There might be a need for some water flow, but water could be piped in. In most such cases the river mouth just becomes a bay, and functions well as a marina. Silting might require dredging every few years, but that is a cost that is readily covered by your royalties.”
“It is our understanding that there are $150 million in gold in the vein, according to prices from last week. When would we get our share of the money?” All the men from the three groups got wide-eyed at that estimate. If true, then the mine was three or four times the size they had been expecting.
“We would have to do a lot of testing to determine the full value of the mine, of course,” the man said. “Your band would get your money at the end of every year. If the mine is of that size it will take 10 or 15 years to clean it all out.”
“Finally, we wish to know what proportion of the work will be done by natives, and what proportion will be done by outside workers.”
The man hesitated. “We will use local people whenever possible. Most of the jobs are for skilled mining positions that will have to be filled by experienced miners. There might be 10 or 15 positions your people could fill, things like drivers of the smaller trucks. That is out of the workforce of 250 that would be at the mine.”
Copper Cliff Resources was the next to speak, and it seemed they were going a bit on the fly. They promised $250,000 up front, as an advance on royalties, and 30% royalties.
“Does your company expect to use the same mining techniques as Northern?” Wayne asked.
Blue suit answered. “Yes, to a large extent. I think I detected a major concern over the environmental impact, so I’m glad that we put together this presentation of some of the rehabilitation efforts our company has accomplished in other places.” He showed a 10-minute slide show.
“Very pretty,” Nick said. “But I expect that those areas were also very pretty before the holes were dug and mountains raised.”
“Of course raw nature is always better,” the man admitted. “But we bring things back to as close as possible to what we started with, with the benefit of having removed the economic assets from the land.”
“Thank you. And now for the final outside bidder, Canadian Shield Mining,” Nick said.
The third set of suits said little more than the first, although this was a smaller company and didn’t offer any payment up front. But they offered 40% commission. Their presentation was less glitzy than the others, and Neil had said this would be the best of the three for the project. However, Nick had a surprise for the suits.
“As I mentioned, there are three outside bidders on this project,” he said. “However, we also have an internal bidder. You know that Ojibwe Mining Company was founded several weeks ago. This was not to be merely a shell company set up to receive royalty payments from outside companies, but as an operating company. I would like to have its representative speak. Miss River Waters.”
River stood confidently. She was quite outraged at what she had heard, and could sense that most of the elders were as well. Moving the river, stripping land away and throwing it on a pile that they would call a hill or mountain, creating a great scar on the earth that they would call a lake when it filled with stagnant water.
“Gentlemen,” she said to the band members, ignoring the visitors. “Our company is very new, but we do have over 25 years of mining experience within our principals, and we hope that we can provide the community with an asset that gives back to the community, rather than tearing it apart in the quest for dollars.
“We are aiming to build a small tunneled mine, with a small workforce going underground to extract only the gold-bearing ore, with as little of what has been called slag as possible. We will use a small workforce, who we will train in mining techniques, entirely from the people of the band. Our goal is to extract about $3 million a year from the mine.”
At that point, the man from Northern Mining burst out laughing. River stopped, and turned to him.
“I’m sorry, but this is a joke, right?” he chuckled. “I mean you bring in a little high school girl, and feed us this tripe. Tunnel mining went out in the 19th century. In case no one has told you, it is the 21st century now. And $3-million a year? No one does it like that. It will take forever to complete the project and move on.”
“Sir,” River said calmly, “I didn’t interrupt your presentation, even though I dearly wanted to when you casually decided that our river was unimportant and could be moved and replaced. I hope you will give me the chance to make our presentation.”
“You mean it is not a joke? You are serious?” the man said.
“It is not a joke. You people see this project simply as a means of making a quick buck. Get in, get the gold, and then get out. We look at it differently. The Ojibwe view is that the earth is something we share, not something for us to abuse. We wish to use this project as a long-term way to provide jobs for our people, and resources for improving their lives. I’m not sure that piling up rubble and calling it a mountain would improve anyone’s life, except for your shareholders, perhaps.”
“We know our methods are dated. But many of our people still hunt with a bow and arrow: a technology 2000 years old. We know that it is easier with a rifle, but there is a peacefulness in going into the woods, using your skills to approach the animals silently for a chance of success. Sure, you can shoot a high-powered rifle from two miles away and bring down an animal, but where is the pride in that?”
“Our goal is to start a small company. We will use four underground workers at first, until they are trained, and then form a second shift. Eventually we will have four 40-hour shifts a week, with an eight-hour maintenance period. There will be another three men per shift taking the ore to the smelter.”
“A smelter too? This is too much?” the man from Northern laughed. River stared at him until he apologized for his outburst and then continued.
“Yes, we will have a small smelter to extract the gold and the silver from the ore. We know our operation will be less efficient than sending the ore to a central refining company, but we expect to extract 98% of the metals. It will also provide another 12 local jobs, operating on a single shift. So in total there will be 40 workers, and an office with one or two other jobs. The big difference is that these are jobs that we can expect to last at least 50 years. Jobs with a future.”
River sat down, and the band members grouped together to discuss the bids. River had the right to join in, but didn’t as a sign of respect for the other bidders. After only five minutes of discussion, they returned and Nick stood.
“Gentlemen, I wish to thank you for coming to this meeting today. Our band elders and officials have voted unanimously to select Ojibwe Mining for this project. Thank you again.”
“This is preposterous,” the man from Copper Cliff shouted.
“What do you expect?” the man from Northern replied. “They are a bunch of primitive Indians. Throwing their money away, and then claiming they need more and more from our taxes.”
“I wouldn’t talk about taxes,” Nick retorted. “It is my understanding that your company hasn’t paid any in the past 15 years, taking tax credits that completely offset your fair share, in spite of your huge profits.”
“This isn’t over, my friend,” the Northern rep said. “You have control of the reservation, and a small claim to the north, but I know mining, and gold in one area will occur elsewhere nearby. We will find it, and we will mine it.”
The meeting then broke up, with the visitors grumbling as they went to their fancy cars, laughing at all the old and broken down pickup trucks that the elders drove. They even mocked the newer truck that they had seen Nick had arrive in. “Can’t be much of a lawyer if that’s all he can afford,” the man from Copper Cliff said as he left. Nick didn’t hear the comment: he and the rest of the elders were inside congratulating River on the job she had done.
The next morning River got a chance to visit Marilyn, partially to thank Nick for his help at the meeting the day before, but mainly to get a chance to see the baby. Still only a month old, she was developing at a rapid rate with the love she was getting from her parents, all her grandparents, and all the other people of the reserve who had fallen in love with the tiny baby, still small for a newborn. Some were lucky enough to earn a smile from the infant.
Carla and Liesl were visiting before heading to their respective busses, and River heard them gossiping about some “cool guy” that Liesl had met at school. From the way she gushed about him, River thought he must be a TV or movie star. Finally she asked who it was.
Liesl turned red, not realizing that River had been listening. “Uhm, it’s Mark,” she finally stammered. “Sorry, but your brother is just the coolest boy in middle school. All the girls think so, not just me.”
Mark, a heartthrob? River had trouble believing it. Liesl explained. “He is not just big and strong, he is the nicest boy in the whole school. He stopped all the bullying, and before class and during recess he often stands near the grade five girls, and makes sure no one teases or bullies us. He always helps other students understand the work, so he is super smart. He even wrote the story that our class is reading.”
“I know that story,” River admitted. “It is really good.”
“It is great,” Liesl said. “Most stories they give us to read are about kids in the city, and it is hard to relate to them. But Mark’s story is about right here, even though it was many years ago. Mrs. Cutler said she can even use it for our history class.”
“So Mark can pretty much have any girl in the fifth grade,” River noted.
“The whole school,” Liesl said. “Even the grade eights like him. Jocelyn McKellar kissed him yesterday.”
“What?” River exclaimed.
“She has been after him for weeks,” Liesl said. “She is really pretty. Her boobs are nearly as big as yours, River, and she has a really nice figure, and long brown hair. Super cute, and one of the most popular girls in the school. Anyway, she has flirted with Mark for weeks, but he never reacts, and I think that bothers her. She pretty much can have any boy in the eighth grade she wants, just by a wink. But not Mark.”
“Tell me about this kiss,” River said.
“It was at the end of lunch,” Liesl explained. “Mark was watching the kids leave the cafeteria, so no one bullied anyone else. Jocelyn just walked up to him and planted a big kiss on him, right on the lips.”
“How did he react?”
“He shouted yuck, and wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve. Jocelyn nearly started to cry. I bet she never had someone act like that when she kissed them before.”
“Well, he is only 10, no 11 now. I guess that is a bit young for kissing girls,” River suggested.
“Yeah. If he does though, I hope it will be with me,” Liesl admitted shyly.
“Well good luck with that,” River said. “I just hope he does it with someone his own age when he is ready. You have to remember that boys develop slower than girls, so we have to wait for them to catch up on things. Just because Mark looks older, and acts older with a more mature attitude, he is still a kid your age inside. Wait for him, and maybe you will be the lucky one. I do know that he likes you as a friend.”
“He likes me?” Liesl said.
“As a friend,” River repeated. “Just don’t go pushing him into something he isn’t ready for. That would be the quickest way to lose him, like that Grade 8 girl did.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Liesl said. “Thanks for talking to me River. Oh look, now I have to rush to the bus. Give Luv another hug for me, Carla.”
“Quite the little Peyton Place, around here, isn’t it,” Marilyn said with a chuckle as she helped Carla change the baby.
“Yes, I think I will talk to Mark about it tomorrow at the river.”
Mark and River now both spent their early mornings in the river. Mark no longer needed a flashlight to see in the dark, and was starting to learn the animals and trees the way River had when she first started visiting the river.
After they finished their homework, Mark dictated another story for River to type. His original story was still being used in class, but his fans (all the rest of the class) begged him for more, so he was now on his third short story. Mrs. Cutler would print several copies out and the students shared them back and forth. Even Grade 6 and 7 students could be seen reading them.
“Mark,” River said. “I understand you had a run-in with Jocelyn McKellar the other day.”
The big lad looked at her. “How did you hear about that? The river?”
“No, I have other sources,” River said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No!” Mark said abruptly.
“Okay, but if you ever do …”
“She stuck her tongue in my mouth,” he said. “It was gross.”
“Ah, that wasn’t part of what I had heard,” River said. “It surprised you, I guess.”
“Well, wouldn’t it surprise you if someone stuck their tongue in your mouth?”
“If I wasn’t expecting it, or if it wasn’t someone who I wanted to do that, then it would.”
“Why would you want anyone to do that?” Mark said.
“Well, if it is someone special, someone you really love, then that can be a way of expressing that love. Has Dad explained things to you: about girls and boys and making babies.”
“Yes, and that is gross too. I mean … oh, yuck.”
“You are still young Mark, and he probably wanted you to know all about that once you grew bigger. You look older now, and people think you are older.”
“I know, but sometimes I am just a little kid inside,” Mark said.
“Yes, and it makes it hard. You know, Jocelyn would have felt terrible the way you reacted to her.”
“What? She was the one who started it. I didn’t want to kiss her. Or anyone. And certainly like that. Have you ever kissed anyone like that?”
“No I haven’t,” River said. “Wayne … well, I would for him, but he has never tried it. He knows I am too young for him now, and the river: it doesn’t want us to, so we don’t. But I know Mom and Dad kiss that way. That’s where the slang expression “suck face” comes from, you know.”
“Really? I didn’t know that. You know, I feel a lot better after talking to you about this River. Do you really think Jocelyn would be upset?”
“Big time,” River said. “I mean I understand she is one of the prettiest and most popular girls in Grade 8. Then she sees a boy she is interested in, and she finally gets her nerve up to kiss him, and he reacts like it was horrible. That would be so damaging to her ego.”
“What do I say to her? I didn’t mean to upset her.”
“Talk to her, alone if you can. Tell her it wasn’t that you were disgusted, just that you were surprised. Remind her that you are only Grade 5, and are not ready for things like that. She should be going out with boys her own age, not younger ones.”
“Thanks River, I will do that.”
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