Prosperity Saskatchewan

James Smith Cree Nation chief wants meeting with Shore Gold executives

James Smith Cree Nation chief wants meeting with Shore Gold executives

Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Published on: June 9, 2017 | Last Updated: June 9, 2017 5:10 PM CST

An aerial view of Shore Gold Inc.’s proposed diamond mine in the Fort à la Corne forest east of Prince Albert. Shore Gold Inc. / Saskatoon

The chief of a First Nation near a proposed diamond mine in the Fort à la Corne forest east of Prince Albert says he is “not impressed” with communication from the company behind the project, and wants to meet with its executives to discuss the project’s potential environmental impact.

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns called for the meeting with Shore Gold Inc. days after the company announced it was in “preliminary negotiations” with an unnamed third party over its mineral properties and as a separate six-month consultation process with the provincial government comes to a close.

“All I’m asking is for them to come to my community and come and express their thoughts with my people,” Burns said, adding that the last Shore Gold executive he met with was its former vice-president of corporate affairs, who left the Saskatoon-based company in early 2012 as it worked to reduce costs in the face of global economic uncertainty.

Burns said while he is not opposed to the $2.5 billion-mine going ahead, the ongoing effects of the Husky Energy Inc. pipeline spill into the North Saskatchewan River last July made him more aware of the importance of preserving his band’s traditional hunting and fishing lands.

“I think my people have known this forest for a long, long time,” he said.

Shore Gold staked its first claim in the forest in 1995. The mine project received environmental approval from the federal government in 2014; former environment minister Leona Aglukkaq said at the time it was “not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when (proposed) mitigation measures … are taken into account.”

The company has not, however, received environmental approval from the provincial government.

Earlier this year, the Saskatchewan government committed $137,000 to a second round of consultations with James Smith Cree Nation after a public review uncovered what a government official described as “issues that had not been addressed.”

Ministry of Environment spokesman Darby Semeniuk said in an email this week that the consultations began in early 2017 and are “on track.” Once the consultations are concluded, the ministry will “evaluate all pertinent information” before deciding whether to issued environmental approval for the mine, Semeniuk said.

Shore Gold president and CEO Ken MacNeill said the company has not heard from the James Smith Cree Nation since the groups exchanged letters earlier this year. However, MacNeill continued, “we can understand that because they’re doing an awful lot of work with the government and we fully support both sides on that.”

MacNeill did not specifically commit to meeting with Burns, but said the company is looking forward to hearing from James Smith Cree Nation. Shore Gold is also looking forward for a response from the Ministry of Environment, which has not to date made any further requests for information, he added.

Shore Gold’s communication efforts have also been criticized by some of its shareholders. At its annual meeting last June, a contentious proxy vote engineered by concerned shareholders came within a few percentage points of ousting three of the company’s directors. Shore Gold’s chairman deemed the vote illegal but allowed the results to stand.