An ongoing dispute between a northern First Nation and a mineral-exploration company is getting nasty just as the company has secured necessary funding to continue to develop the project.
On Wednesday, Red Sucker Lake First Nation issued a statement saying it "will not give its consent to any further mineral exploration on their ancestral lands and traditional territories as of today."
Thunder Bay-based Mega Precious Metals Inc. is developing a gold and tungsten property called Monument Bay about 60 kilometres north of Red Sucker Lake, which is about 700 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
In December, Mega arranged up to $40 million in financing with a private equity firm to be able to take the Monument Bay project through the last few years of development before a decision is made to invest perhaps up to hundreds of millions of dollars more to build a mine.
Although Mega and RSLFN had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) a couple of years ago, that working relationship fell apart last summer when the band attempted to evict the mining company and the company then sought and won a court injunction against that action.
The band says it has environmental concerns and in the past has negotiated for economic and community benefits. It's not clear why the latest salvo has been fired now.
In the release, Red Sucker Lake First Nation Chief Les Harper said, "We are saying 'no' to the province's proposal to conduct community consultations because they don't work."
Chief Harper was not available for an interview but Dave Chomiak, Manitoba's minister of mineral resources, said efforts to negotiate with the band have been a frustrating experience.
"This is curious since we had a meeting with them (in December) where we decided to take a fresh look at lining up an opportunities study for them," Chomiak said on Wednesday.
The position RSLFN is taking has been aggressively supported by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
Wally McKay, senior political liaison to Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, said, "The biggest problem is that it has been teamwork between the government and the proponent. They work hand in hand together to find ways of undermining the need for First Nations to be consulted."
But Chomiak is not having any of it.
"We have flown up there, we have flown them down here," Chomiak said. "They have met with the premier. There has been an exchange of money (the band holds shares in the company), there was an MOU. It is hard for them to argue there has not been communication."
Chomiak said efforts will be made to continue discussions.
Officials with Mega were unavailable to comment, but in the past they have expressed a commitment to work with the band.
Although all parties agree the Monument Bay project has been the most problematic, it is not the only mineral-exploration project in Manitoba whose development has been bogged down by contentious negotiations with First Nations.
Late last year, a new Mining Advisory Council was formed, bringing together industry representatives, the province and First Nation leaders to develop protocols to allow for better communication.
Ron Evans, chief of Norway House Cree Nation and co-chairman of the advisory council, said he accepts RSLFN's right to take the position it's taking but he's keen to get better informed about the opportunities and challenges about the mining industry.
"That's why I agreed to co-chair the council," Evans said. "There is a whole gamut of opportunities but there are also processes and certain steps that are taken to get to a mine."