New Brunswick

5 Maliseet chiefs want Sisson mine rejected

The chiefs of five Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick are calling for the proposed Sisson mine project to be rejected because of its impact on Maliseet people.

St. Mary's, Tobique, Kingsclear, Oromocto, Madawaska chiefs respond to environmental assessment

Tobique First Nation Chief Ross Perley said the area proposed for an open pit mine is one of the last areas for Maliseet to harvest and practice their culture. (CBC)

The chiefs of five Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick are calling for the proposed Sisson mine project to be rejected because of its impact on Maliseet people.

The chiefs of Kingsclear, Madawaska, Oromocto, St. Mary's and Tobique First Nations issued a statement on Thursday in reaction to a federal study that said the proposed mine would have a "significant" impact on several communities.

The proposed mine would impact 1,253 hectares of land about 60 kilometres northwest of Fredericton that have been traditionally used for hunting, fishing and resource-gathering by the Tobique, Kingsclear, Woodstock and St. Mary's communities.

"This open pit mine would destroy one of our last remaining areas to harvest and practise our culture," said Tobique Chief Ross Perley in a statement by the chiefs. "It creates a long-term risk of contamination for our territory and resources.

St. Mary's First Nation Chief Candice Paul is calling for the federal Environment minister to reject the proposal for an open pit mine about 60 kilometres northwest of Fredericton. (CBC)
"This is not an appropriate project for Maliseet territory and we urge Canada to reject it in light of the conclusions for the comprehensive study report."

The report was released Friday by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to initiate a 30-day period of public response.

"St. Mary's First Nation appreciates Canada's acknowledgement of the heavy toll this mine would take on our rights," said St. Mary's Chief Candice Paul. "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."

Woodstock First Nation is not included on the list of Maliseet communities calling for the mine project to be rejected. Woodstock Chief Tim Paul declined to comment on Thursday.

Sisson responds

Sisson Mines Ltd. wants to develop an open pit tungsten and molybdenum mine and ore processing facility. It is expected to operate for 27 years, mining 30,000 dry tonnes per day. The projected cost of the mine is $579 million.

The mine is expected to create 500 jobs during its construction and 300 jobs during its operation.

Company officials declined interviews Thursday because the environmental assessment process is continuing to unfold. However, the company did issue a written statement about the findings of the comprehensive study report by the federal assessment agency, noting it concluded the mine "can be developed and operated in an environmentally responsible manner."

"This project can provide jobs and significant long term economic benefit to all New Brunswickers," the company stated.

"We recognize the importance First Nations places on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and we are committed to advancing the Sisson project in a manner that respects these elements. Sisson will continue to engage Maliseet First Nations in a meaninful and constructive manner."

However, there appears to be little interest in dialogue from the five chiefs who signed off on Thursday's statement calling for the federal rejection of the proposal.

Aboriginal and treaty rights

The New Brunswick government has approved the environmental impact assessment for the project, subject to 40 conditions.

"Maliseet Aboriginal and treaty rights are already seriously compromised in New Brunswick due to centuries of colonization, including overharvesting of key Maliseet resources and extensive development and privatization of provincial Crown land," reads the statements issued by lawyer Dominique Nouvet on behalf of the five chiefs.

Dominque Nouvet represents the six Maliseet First Nations of St. Mary's, Oromocto, Kingslcear, Woodstock, Tobique and Madawaska in their negotiations with the New Brunswick government about the Sisson mine project. (CBC)
"The mine would further erode the Maliseet's constitutional rights and seriously infringe on Maliseet Aboriginal title and treaty and harvesting cultural rights."

The statement points to a section of the agency's report where it finds "the residual adverse effects on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes to be of high magnitude given the size of the area that would become unavailable and the cultural importance of this area."

"The agency considers the effects to be at a regional scale … permanent, continuous, and irreversible.

"The agency considers that the measures proposed by the proponent would mitigate some effects on biophysical resources important for current land use activities, but fail to address the permanent loss of access to an area of high value, and the associated use of that area."

On Tuesday, Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay said no amount of accommodation is worth damaging the land.

"We just want them to leave the land as it is," said Tremblay.

"We feel that as traditional people, we still utilize the land in our gathering, to hunt, and to do ceremonies, plus to collect medicines in that traditional territory.

"That's a very sacred piece of land to our people."

The New Brunswick government has approved the environmental impact assessment for the project, subject to 40 conditions.

The federal decision is expected to be made this summer.