A proposed silica sand mine in Seymourville on Hollow Water First Nation territory continues to stir concern among some living in the area, but according to the company intending on working there, their views aren’t shared by the majority.
Members of Camp Morning Star along with Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature Tuesday morning, protesting what they call a lack of assessments and consultations with all community members.
“We want to ensure that there is something for future generations, not only Indigenous peoples but all people,” Camp Morning Star member Marcel Hardisty said. “If we don’t do something to stop the destructive nature of industrial practices and government policy, what are we going to have left for our children?”
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The group has opposed the project since 2019, when Alberta-based Canadian Premium Sands first received its license from the province.
The leases were approved by the local band council. However, Hardisty said they don’t represent the views of everyone living there — those worried about the mine’s disregard of the spiritual significance of silica sand among Indigenous peoples and its potential effects on air quality, wildlife and water.
Hardisty said the chief and council didn’t respond to an op-ed he wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press in 2019, even though he’s interested in sitting down with them.
Hollow Water First Nation said it didn’t have a comment on the issue.
Camp Morning Star sent Premier Heather Stefanson a letter in November outlining its concerns and a number of demands surrounding the project, a Tuesday morning release stated.
The group said the letter went unanswered, but the province says then-agriculture minister Ralph Eichler responded on the premier’s behalf.
“It is standard practice for ministers to respond on behalf of the premier when individuals are seeking specific technical and/or procedural information that is located and managed by a department rather than the premier’s office,” said a spokesperson with the department of natural resources and northern development.
They said the province was working closely with elected First Nations officials to complete the Crown-Indigenous consultation process for the project, adding the documents were confidential.
“Departmental staff remain available to discuss any concerns community members may have in relation to the Crown-Indigenous consultation process and the project more generally.”
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Canadian Premium Sands is in the process of getting a different permit for the lands they’ve leased, because the company wants to use the silica sand to make solar glass, instead of fracking, as announced in late 2021.
If everything goes ahead as planned, the mine site could be shovel ready by the end of this year, Canadian Premium Sands’ president and CEO Glenn Leroux said.
The Selkirk solar glass plant, which will employ about 300 full-time workers over the next three decades, could be in production by 2025, Leroux told Global News on Tuesday.
Leroux said Camp Morning Star’s views aren’t shared by the majority of people living near the proposed mine site, but he’s open to speaking with them.
“This idea that this will be (an) environmental disaster is exactly why the regulators exist in the first place,” he said. “In order to get the first permit, there was an entire reclamation program. There (were) all these mitigation things within that.”
Leroux expressed confusion and frustration about the group’s concerns, since chemicals won’t be used in the operation, which also won’t disturb black shale deposits — sedimentary rock that can contain metals and contaminate soil and water.
“Just like a gravel pit, you remove the overburden — the trees and whatever, the dirt. And then the sand is there. You take the sand out, and you wash it and sort it in size and do the other things we have to do to get it high-graded.”
“They buy this same sand to put in sandboxes.”
Manufacturing solar glass in Manitoba is a “really big thing for the province,” Leroux said.
“We will be the only supplier of this grade of glass, of this type of glass in North America.”
Canadian Premium Sands plans on holding public meetings and getting feedback this spring.