By Mathew Scammell
On May 29th, 2019, members from Wa Ni Ska Tan attended a protest in front of the Manitoba Legislature in support of residents of Hollow Water First Nation. These residents were advocating against a silica sand mine project that had been approved by their Chief and Council, the Manitoba Government, and is being run by Canadian Premium Sand. The extracted sand is to be shipped to Alberta for use in oil and gas fracking operations.
The rally itself had a mixture of speakers from representatives of both the community and environmental NGO’s. The community members who spoke were all involved in the establishment of Camp Morningstar, a peace camp that symbolizes grassroots opposition to the mining project. The NGO speakers were from the Boreal Action Project and the Wilderness Committee. I thought the speeches were informative, inspiring, and insightful. Informative because multiple speakers talked about the mining operation itself and how it was affecting them and the land, inspiring because of the passion that was obvious in the speeches, and insightful because it showed how deeply ignorant government officials can be when approving resource development applications.
I used to think the time of meaningless consultation between federal or provincial governments and Indigenous communities was over. I used to think the time of steam rolling resource extraction projects through environmental approval processes was over. I have now seen evidence that these outdated practices of ignoring legitimate concerns about environmental damage and human health are not things of the past – they are very much current issues.
Consultation between any government and an Indigenous community needs to be meaningful at the very least, and depending on the potential impacts to their inherent rights, might even need to be deep and enduring. The fact that community members are speaking out and against this project, which does have the approval of the chief and council, means it is likely that consultation was not meaningful and did not include general band members. This would indicate that the duty to consult has not been met by the provincial government and the project should be stalled, on this basis alone. Environmental impact assessments, on the other hand, should be rigorous and methodical. After reading their impact assessment, however, it seemed that it did have in-depth analyses of environmental impacts but seriously lacked the community consultation. With regards to environmental implications, there was also complete disregard for the fact that the silica sand would be used in oil and gas operations, despite the fact it was brought up during public meetings in the context of climate change.
I was impressed by the alliance between the local community and environmental organizations, mainly because the partnerships seemed to help galvanize action and collaboration between both social and environmental justice activists. The rally caused me to want to learn more and get involved myself, and left me with a feeling that working together with people that have similar values as you, is the only way to move forward.