Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/12/2018 (261 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As "part of the provincial environmental assessment process," Canadian Premium Sand Inc. held a community information session this week in Seymourville to discuss the Wanipigow sand extraction project.
The project aims to send up to 600 million tonnes of "frac sand" to drilling sites across North America, and create about 150 jobs over 50 years, generating from $235 million to $940 million for the Manitoba economy.
Frac sand — high-purity quartz sand with durable, round, uniform grains — is the preferred material used in oil and gas fracking projects in North America to prop open the man-made fractures, allowing petroleum fluids to flow into the well.
An area near Seymourville and adjacent to Hollow Water First Nation, 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg, will be the site of the extraction. The project, the largest of its kind in Canada, will make Manitoba a major player in the North American petroleum industry.
The seemingly high benefits, however, come with high costs.
Area resident Don Sullivan published an assessment of the project earlier this month, citing four major concerns: adequate environmental assessment, breathing issues for workers and citizens, water contamination and run off pollution, and increased traffic on roads and the land.
In an article this week, Free Press colleague Martin Cash wrote the company "has done a preliminary economic assessment but has not yet submitted materials required for permits."
In other words, the question of how the Wanipigow project will affect the environment has yet to be answered. Still, an 80-hole core-drilling project is underway, and the company hopes to begin mining next year.
Something else Cash wrote struck me: "On Monday night, community leadership from Hollow Water First Nation, Seymourville, Aghaming and Manigotagan met with company officials all together for the first time."
Those are the nearby First Nations and Métis communities affected by the project — informed two days before the Seymourville public meeting.
According to the company, it had met more than 60 times with various members of communities — so there’s a big question as to who was met, where and what about.
In his review of the project, Sullivan pointed out there are "legal and fiduciary obligations on the Crown (not the company) to undertake meaningful and bonafide consultations" with affected Métis and First Nations.
In order for this project to go ahead, it must meet the criteria of Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution: "The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal people in Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed."
Aboriginal rights are the practices, traditions and customs that embody the cultures, laws and governments of Indigenous nations. Treaty rights are the legal rights and responsibilities parties share in that relationship.
All of this has to do with land.
Indigenous nations derive their rights from interacting and living within environments. Treaties are inevitably about how space — a.k.a. land — is shared, so treaty rights are the rules that govern the sharing.
This means in order for Canada to fulfil its constitutional commitments, every single time Canada or an entity within Canada wants to build or develop anything involving the land, Indigenous nations have to be consulted and consent must be obtained.
This is not an opinion. It’s fact.
The Crown cannot download obligations to the provinces, but they can work together as governments. The Crown, though, definitively cannot download obligations to companies. They have to oversee corporations in the process of ensuring Section 35 is fulfilled.
On Thursday, Canada Premium Sand issued a news release announcing it had entered an "economic participation agreement" with Hollow Water First Nation, in which the community would get "various economic and social benefits and opportunities, including employment, contracting and training initiatives."
This shows promise. Hollow Water has formed what appears to be a positive, ongoing relationship with a corporate partner that could result in benefits for the community.
A serious question arises: what will be left for the dozen or so First Nation and Métis communities that will be affected, too? There’s only so many jobs and so much money to go around.
The biggest issue: this is not Section 35 consultation. Not even close. That takes years, time and energy. Certainly more than a year.
And the project is already underway.
This is exactly the problem with including Indigenous nations after the fact.
When it comes to lands and resources, in fact, Canada and Indigenous nations are in a "cycle."
Canada or a province decides it wants to "develop" something, often with a corporate partner. The project is announced and the company is issued licences. Later, some information is released to the public, usually about how much money and how many jobs will be created.
This is usually where Indigenous leaders hear about the project and say something like "we haven’t been consulted."
By this point, this gets construed by the public — conditioned to think the project is great — as though Indigenous nations are "standing in the way."
Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders are simply asking Canada to follow its own laws.
Usually, consultation is represented by hearings where elders, academics and citizens — who Canada has to "approve" to appear — say the project will negatively affect their "Aboriginal and treaty rights." Sometimes a report is released, sometimes not.
Then, Canada approves the project.
Consultation is never about "no," it’s about how much governments have to accommodate in the form of money, jobs and whatever else.
Then, Indigenous activists organize. Protest. Terrible images are seen on TV involving police carrying away grandmothers. Then, the project is usually stopped.
Then, we are back where we started. How much time and money have been wasted?
Why doesn’t Canada involve Indigenous nations in the country’s plans from Day 1?
It’s too late for the Wanipigow project, but not too late to stop some nasty stuff from occurring, and repeating a cycle.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.