James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN) says there will be no diamond mine in the Fort à la Corne Forest “until our people's interests are satisfied.” In a statement, band members said the proposed venture would adversely affect their Treaty rights and culture.
The statement was issued the day after the Saskatchewan government confirmed environmental assessment approval for Star Diamond, the company behind the long-planned Star Orion South project 65 kilometres east of Prince Albert. It has the potential to employ 700 people.
In a media release Friday, JSCN Chief Wally Burns said “the way things stand, everyone else gets the benefits of the mine, while we are left with all the consequences.” The mine, with a projected life span of almost 40 years, would be constructed adjacent to JSCN reserve lands in what is known as an island forest, surrounded by cultivated agricultural land.
“Ultimately our way of life in that forest is going to be destroyed; we’re getting nothing from it,” adviser to the Chief and band member Winston McLean told paNOW. “For the last six years we’ve been trying to convince the government that the estimate of the project footprint is much larger than what the company claims; so basically it’s a lie.”
McLean said the project’s impact on hunting rights and physical consequences would be “unmitigated” and take up 12 per cent of the forest, not two per cent as he said Star Diamond claimed.
On Thursday, the government said 11 conditions had to be met over the life of the mine to address environmental and community impacts. These included the creation of a special conservation area to be set aside elsewhere in the Fort à la Corne Forest to provide continued opportunity for the exercise of Treaty and Aboriginal rights. McLean likened that idea to the injustices of the past.
“It’s ironic in this day and age of Reconciliation between our peoples in this country that we would be reviving an historic policy where we got shunted from the economy, from our own lands, away from activity, and put in a place where half of our people don’t even hunt, fish or gather,” he said.
Asked what the JSCN would be looking for in order to make the diamond mine a reality, McLean said it would require tangible benefits and an industry standard type of agreement with the company.
“It should not just be compensation but benefits for the damage to the forest that includes participation in the project including revenue-sharing,” he said.
McLean said the JSCN was hopeful about a positive outcome because Rio Tinto was involved in the project as a potential partner. He said the mining giant had a “more mature view in terms of how to conduct relationships with First Nations peoples.”
He labelled the relationship with Star Diamond “terrible.”
paNOW asked Star Diamond for comment regarding the concerns being raised by James Smith Cree Nation. President and CEO Kenneth E. MacNeill was not available for an interview but in a media release the company said, in part, “opportunities for Aboriginal people and other people in the area will be created through direct employment by the Project through a representative workforce.”
Star Diamond also noted their relationship with Rio Tinto on the project saying they were “extremely pleased to partner with Rio Tinto to further develop the potential of the Project. Rio Tinto is one of the few companies in the world with the resources and expertise to move forward with a project of the magnitude of the Star-Orion South Diamond Project.”
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