First Nation chief takes Sisson mine concerns to UN meetings

A First Nation chief says he took his Sisson mine objections all the way to New York for a United Nations caucus meeting and heard similar stories from Indigenous groups elsewhere in the world.

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was also an opportunity to expose youth to UN

Ron Tremblay spoke of Atlantic First Nations' objections to the planned Sisson mine north of Fredericton when he attended the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. (Logan Perley/Submitted)

A Wolastoq chief says he brought his objections to the proposed Sisson mine in central New Brunswick all the way to New York for a United Nations caucus meeting.

Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay and Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik (Passamaquoddy) Chief Hugh Akagi said they brought six young people from different First Nations along for the first time to attend the a UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last week.

Tremblay said individuals haven't been able to speak directly on the forum floor for a few years, but he still shared his frustrations with the New Brunswick and federal governments with the international Indigenous communities at four caucus and side meetings.

Northcliffe Resources Ltd. was expected to start on its controversial tungsten mine this spring but said earlier this month that it was still looking after requirements attached to the federal approval of the project. 

If developed, the Sisson mine could be in operation for about 27 years. (Submitted Sisson Mining Ltd)

Tremblay suggested that Northcliffe and mine supporters didn't follow the proper process with respect to consulting First Nations.

"They fast-tracked the Sisson project and they just dealt specifically with the band-elected chiefs and they have not consulted with the traditional chiefs nor with the citizens of our nation," he said.

"So they broke the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People that Canada fully supports without qualifications."

Protesters living at the Sisson encampment say they are committed to protecting the forest and the water in the area from mining development. (Shane Fowler)

In February 2017, six Maliseet First Nations reached a multimillion-dollar deal with the provincial government that advanced the open-pit mine project. But five of the chiefs later said they were still opposed to the mine and had felt pressured to sign the agreement.

In July 2017, a few members of the Wolastoq, or Maliseet, First Nation built a protest camp at the proposed site of the Sisson mine near Napadogan. Grandmothers have been occupying the camp since, said Tremblay.

The mine had been given environmental approval from Ottawa in June 2017. If constructed, the open pit mine and ore-processing facility would be expected to operate for 27 years with a projected cost of $579 million.

Tremblay said he received many nods of understanding from Indigenous people at the New York gathering when he spoke about the mine.

"They all came up to me after the fact, and in fact similar stories started to evolve when people would get up on the stage, at the platform to speak, very similar stories," he said.

A learning opportunity

Akagi said that aside from voicing concerns, he also hoped bringing youth along would inspire them to be more involved in the political process.

"I thought that if we could take some of the youth from our community maybe they would share and understand and see how they can be organized as well how they can have a voice," Akagi said. "It encourages them to speak out if you speak out at an international event then you should be able to speak out anywhere."

Akagi said hearing perspectives from Indigenous people around the world was "eye opening," because it's dangerous for some of them to attend.

"Even though we have issues here in Canada, the issues in other countries around the world, they can actually be life-threatening to these folks," he said. "You get awareness when they tell you not to take photos."

However, he said, that doesn't take away from the challenges facing Indigenous people in Canada.

He said he has to "put some hope" in the UN because governments are always changing.

"I'd like to think that people are starting to be listened to, and this forum will give us an opportunity to exercise our voice," he said.

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton and Moncton. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca