Maliseet leaders to attend mining ministers conference in St. Andrews


Leaders opposed to proposed Sisson Brook Mine

By Matthew Bingley, CBC News Posted: Aug 14, 2017 8:20 AM AT Last Updated: Aug 14, 2017 8:20 AM AT

Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, the traditional chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, is opposed to the Sisson mine.

Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, the traditional chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, is opposed to the Sisson mine. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Indigenous people who are opposed to the Sisson mine project are teaming up with other advocacy groups to try to sway mining ministers at a national conference this week in St. Andrews.

The Energy and Mines Ministers' Conference will gather mining and energy ministers from every Canadian jurisdiction. The conference is held annually as a means to bolster the industry within the country. 

The province is hosting the meeting not long after the controversial Sisson mine received federal environmental approval. Now, a delegation of conservationists, Indigenous leaders, and mining advocates plan on rubbing elbows with those ministers.

"What we would like to address are the concerns from our people from our nation of the Wolastoq area," said Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, who is opposed to the Sisson mine. 

Environmental risk

Tremblay plans to remind those attending the conference of the environmental risk. 

He said he will bring up the Mount Polley mining disaster, where in 2014, the BC mine's tailings dam broke, spilling 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into nearby lakes and rivers. 

"They ruined and they poisoned all the vegetation and that river," said Tremblay. 

"Jobs are really a must for our people, but [there are] better jobs that are out there that could sustain our people." 

Opposition despite accommodation agreement

In February, the chiefs of the six Maliseet First Nations affected by the mine reached a multi-million dollar deal with the provincial government. 

The accommodation agreement would see the six First Nations receive 9.8 percent of provincial revenue generated by the metallic mineral tax.

Despite signing the deal, five of the chiefs have publicly denounced it. 

Some, including Chief Patricia Bernard of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, have suggested the province used a veiled threat of withholding tax revenue to encourage the agreement. 

Memories of Rexton

Rexton confrontation

The threat of shale gas exploration set off protests in Rexton in 2013. (Jen Choi/CBC)

Tremblay said he hopes the government will remember anti-fracking protests in 2013. 

"It was the people who changed the government," he said.

"I'm sure the Liberal government [is] going to pay very, very close, you know, attention to the people."

But Tremblay doesn't think protecting traditional lands will need to result in confrontation. Instead, he intends to rub shoulders with ministers with the hopes of changing their mind with information. Tremblay intends to meet one-on-one with them, to pass on documents and state his concerns.

Watchdog concerns

Ugo Lapointe

Ugo Lapointe, from Mining Watch Canada, a mining watchdog group, thinks the Sisson mine project is unsafe. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Joining Tremblay at the conference will be Ugo Lapointe, from Mining Watch Canada, a watchdog group. 

Lapointe said his group thinks the Sisson mine project is unsafe. 

"We are not satisfied with the studies that are being done so far with regards to the Sisson tailings dam and mining waste facility," Lapointe said. 

The group plans to release a study it commissioned on the proposed tailings facility this week.  

"We're not against mining in itself," he said. 

"What we are against is poor mining projects and risky mining projects and we feel that the Sisson mine is one of those." 

Protesters plan to camp at Sisson site all winter

Ramona Nicholas

Ramona Nicholas has been providing supplies to Maliseet protesters camped near the Sisson site and staying there herself. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Before leaving for the conference, the delegation went to the Sisson mine location. Earlier this summer, a protest camp was erected by members of the Maliseet First Nations. 

Ramona Nicholas has been both providing supplies for the campers and staying there herself. 

"We've been planning on how we're going to be staying up there for the winter," Nicholas said.

Living at the location she said has strengthened her need to prevent the mine. 

"This isn't about protesting, this is about protecting," Nicholas said.

One of the main goals, she said, is communicating that purpose to others so they understand the issue. 

Nicholas said having the delegation at the St. Andrews conference will help her cause. 

"I think...having some presence at this conference will just kind of help them understand things a little better," Nicholas said. 

"I try to help people understand, rather than try to find conflict."

An email seeking clarification on whether New Brunswick's ministers would meet with the delegation received no response from the Energy and Resource Development spokesperson.