Northern Saskatchewan; remote and rugged, this part of the prairies is known for its pristine lakes, tall arching trees and outdoor adventures.
It is also home to the largest high-grade uranium deposits in the world.
Approximately five hours north of Saskatoon is where you will find the community of Pinehouse Lake, Saskatchewan. The Kineepik Metis village of almost 1,500 is nestled on the Churchill River system.
For practically three decades, this community has had a close relationship with Cameco Corporation; the largest private employer in Canada of First Nations and Metis people.
“More or less our community can have a future. Because of our young populations we need to be more sustaining and more certain, and this is one of the things that industry has brought to us, a lot of hope,” states Mike Natomagnan, the mayor of Pinehouse Lake and a former Cameco worker.
For him, hope has translated into real change, including more involvement with the environment, and better educational opportunities for young people. Community dollars have been invested into education through scholarships and partnerships with local schools.
“We want our kids to have a better opportunity to see the world,” Natomagan states, “Push education on top of everything else. It makes for better outcomes.”
Those outcomes can already be seen in the halls of the local high school which boasts a high graduation rate including 37 people pursuing post-secondary studies. For Natomagan it’s a big deal.
The knowledge of elders to provide the community with a better understanding of where they have been and where their world is going through the promotion of culture and language is another key component to educational investment.
Thanks to their partnership with Cameco, Pinehouse Lake has been able to address some health challenges. Concerned over the rates of diabetes in young people, they invested in a breakfast program and the construction of a community arena to help promote a healthy lifestyle.
He believes in long-term collaborations based on open dialogue and participation. Working closely with industry means more involvement with the environment including visiting the mine site, holding public meetings and providing reports on activities in the area.
Economics is critical to the future of Pinehouse Lake for Natomagan. The mayor sees investments today as the cornerstone of tomorrow.
“Collaborate with industry that wants to be there for a long time. Work with us,” he says. “I hope (Cameco) will be here for a long time. They have stepped up to the table for us.”
In early June, Cameco and First Nations and Metis leaders from across northern Saskatchewan will converge in Ottawa to “celebrate 25 years of partnerships between company and communities.”