APTN National News
Maliseet Chiefs in New Brunswick are calling on the federal government to reject a controversial open-pit mining project in their territory.
A federal environmental assessment says the project will have significant negative impacts on traditional land use.
The proposed mine is in the heart of Maliseet territory, 60 kilometres north of Fredericton. Maliseet, or Wolastoqey, communities have raised concerns over its impacts.
The comprehensive review echoes those concerns, calling the effects “permanent, continuous, and irreversible.”
Tobique Chief Ross Perley said the risks associated with the project are just too high for his territory.
“This open pit mine would destroy one of our last remaining areas to harvest and practice our culture, and it creates a long term risk of contamination for our territory and resources,” said Perley in a statement. “This is not an appropriate project for Maliseet territory and we urge Canada to reject it in light of the conclusions in the Comprehensive Study Report”.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released its report last week and is now seeking input from the public.
“St. Mary’s First Nation appreciates Canada’s acknowledgement of the heavy toll this mine would take on our rights,” said Chief Candice Paul, from the St. Mary’s First Nation. “We call on Canada to honour its Peace and Friendship Treaties with us and reject the mine on the basis of this finding of significant adverse effects.”
The Sisson Mines Ltd. plans to extract tungsten and molybdenum. The open pit mine will include a massive, 751 hectare tailings pond. A swath of land will also be cleared for a 42 kilometre NB Power transmission line.
In its review, the federal agency finds the company’s plans to mitigate the effects “fail to address the permanent loss of access to an area of high value, and the associated use of that area.”
The New Brunswick Government has already given the project the greenlight.
The lawyer for the Maliseet Chiefs, Dominque Nouvet, said the province jumped the gun on its approval of its own environmental assessment because consultation is ongoing.
“The law is clear. Consultation should be completed in advance of decision making in order to inform it,” said Nouvet. “And that’s what was outrageous about the provincial approval, is that they themselves acknowledged that consultation was not yet complete.”
Nouvet said the chiefs are still willing to consult and talk about accommodation.
“The call for rejection stems from the fact their concerns have not been addressed. And this mine is going to have really serious adverse impacts on their traditional way of life,” said Nouvet. “And they’re running out of places to go to carry on traditional activities and exercise their rights. And at this point in time, nothing has been done to address that.”
The Wolastaq Traditional Grand Council and clan mothers have strongly opposed the project from the beginning.
Wolastaq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay applauds the elected chiefs for their calls to stop the project.
“It’s important to preserve Wolastoqey homeland for our present and future children, also to protect the natural world so the animals, vegetation and waterways will continue to survive,” said Tremblay. “Our Wolastoqey Nation is facing invasions from companies and governments who are trying to destroy our natural homeland.”
Nouvet, a consultation expert based in British Columbia, sees a huge contrast between Indigenous communities on the two coasts of Canada. She worked on the Tsilhqot’in case that led to a huge victory at the Supreme Court of Canada two years ago. That decision is considered a game-changer for Indigenous communities and the issue of consent.
“What is just so tough for the Maliseet is that their land has been occupied and colonized, the resources have been exploited for hundreds of years,” said Nouvet.
That long history has meant a greater loss of territory, said Nouvet.
“They cannot fish for salmon, pursuant to their Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Forests have been overharvested. They are running out of places to go to exercise treaty rights that were promised to them in perpetuity. They never surrendered title,” she said.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is taking submissions from public on the project until May 15.
A decision on whether it’s approved is expected this summer.