A First Nation with some of the richest uranium deposits in northern Saskatchewan wants an exploration company off its land.
Birch Narrows Dene Nation, with support from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), told Baselode Energy Corp. "to cease and desist further resources exploration and vacate their lands," in a prepared statement on Tuesday.
The First Nation alleges it found the company's workers on its land without the band council's consent. While the company received a permit from the province, Birch Narrows Dene Nation Chief Jonathon Sylvestre said that doesn't "give them the green light to run roughshod over our Inherent and Treaty Rights.”
The First Nation has since removed a blockade it built to stop exploration, but continues to patrol the area. Sylvestre said he expects "meaningful and proper consultation prior to any resource development" on the First Nation's land.
"It’s been especially difficult to meet deadlines during COVID-19, while our efforts are keeping our communities safe — not on rubber stamping resource development activities in our territories," he said.
Baselode has paused work to consult with the community. In a prepared statement on Monday, the company said it "believes a near-term solution is achievable and (that it) will continue with its exploration activities in due course."
Baselode's survey was a low-impact environmental survey conducted by snowmobile and on foot, a Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment spokeswoman said in a statement. Following delays related to COVID-19, Baselode officials met with the community on Jan. 20 and Feb. 9 to answer questions, the spokeswoman said.
Exploration is expected to be followed by a sampling survey that requires a separate consultation process, she said, adding that the province extended the original process to give the community more time to share concerns.
The dispute over the community's consent drew support from First Nation leaders.
In a statement, Treaty 10 leadership urged the province to follow the course set federally by Bill C-15, which aims to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It commended Baselode for pausing work, but said it was "misleading, inaccurate and disingenuous" for the province to say that Birch Narrows had ample time to voice concerns.
Underfunded First Nations need more resources to meaningfully participate in the consultation process, said Meadow Lake Tribal Council Chief Richard Ben.
“Otherwise, many First Nations will be left out of the process. We can’t undertake studies at our own expense in order to be consulted on resource development within our territory," he said.
Treaty rights override the provincial permit process, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said. Without gaining consent or input from the First Nation, "stay off our lands," he added.
“These kinds of bad business practices won’t be tolerated anymore as our connections to the land, water, animals and environment is paramount,” FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear said.
“Resource exploration and extraction within our territories presents our Treaty hunters and gatherers with real problems, especially when it impacts their ability to exercise their Inherent and Treaty rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather.”