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CAMP MORNING STAR, A PEACEFUL PROCESS TO SAVE THE LAND
By Suzanne Forcese
On May 29, 2019, Camp Morning Star (CMS), along with 120 individuals held a peaceful rally on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature to create public awareness of their message, Protecting the Land. The land is in Hollow Water First Nation Treaty 5. The group's concerns are over the licensing of a 54 year frack sand mining project on their traditional territory.
WaterToday spoke with Dreyson Smith, a CMS director. "Morning Star was the spirit name given to my grandfather's grandfather, John Hardisty, one of the original signatories of Treaty 5." Smith's Anishinaabe ancestors were originally from Black Island. "We were the reserve that never was. They (HudBay Mines) moved us to Hollow Water."
The Black Island "mining project here was 51% owned by Claim Post Resources." (Marketwire, Jan 25, 2013)
In 2014 Claim Post Resources Inc., a publicly held Canadian company, began the process of developing a silica sand operation in Hollow Water and surrounding communities of Manigatogan and Seymourville. After a name change to Canada Premium Sand (CPS) and a renaming of the project to Wanipigow Sand, the Manitoba Government approved the environmental licence necessary for the development of Wanipigow Silica Sand Extraction Project, a one million tonne per year open pit silica sand mine and silica sand processing facility (Environment Act Licence No.3285), May 16, 2019.
For more than 110 days Camp Morning Star has been maintaining a peaceful vigil on the site where a road had been clear cut several months before the licence was granted. "We tried to do things their way, writing letters, speaking, but no one was listening," Lisa Raven, also a director of CMS said. "The camp has always been and always will be a peaceful and sacred process."
The concerns of CMS have centred around the clearing of their sacred territory for the processing plant. Trap lines have been destroyed. Deer and moose are roaming in town now that their habitat no longer exists. "They have dug three deep wells less than a kilometre away from the shore of Lake Winnipeg…so close to the groundwater. I'm thinking the natural springs and the lake...all that groundwater the animals rely on, where we get our traditional medicines. There will be no aquifer. The silica sand is the filter. The whole ecosystem and our traditional way of life have already been impacted," Smith told WT.
Life for anyone travelling the highway to cottage country will also be impacted as CPS plans to send a truck out every 8 minutes 24 hours a day, every day of the year, on a highway that has a single lane in each direction. Part of the route crosses a hydro dam. That section of highway was completed in 1952 and is in serious disrepair with wide cracks, suggesting a catastrophic flooding event is waiting to happen under the weight of heavy trucks hauling sand.
WaterToday phoned the CPS office in Seymourville, Manitoba, and was directed to Jerome Mikombo, Senior Production Director. Mikombo chose not to answer questions.
From the Manitoba Public Registry, WT uncovered a letter to the shareholders from Claim Post Resources (CPS), dated August 11, 2017 and signed by Charles Gryba, President and Director, stating, "One of the main risks to advancing a Canadian mining project at the current time is having a social licence to operate. Claim Post has held a series of ongoing meetings with the communities...resulting in exploration MOU's being signed." Then on September 1, 2018, a letter signed by Hollow Water First Nation saying "so that economic benefits might flow to our local communities we waive the right to any Crown consultation." And on November 29, 2018, from the Wanipigow Sand Project, letter to Shareholders, the Company announced that it had entered into an economic participation agreement with Hollow Water First Nation. "As per the agreement, the Company has agreed to set aside $500,000 to HWFN. The Company paid $250,000 upon signing the agreement and expects to pay $125,000 upon approval of permits and another $125,000 at the start of plant operation."
The Company had skirted the risk of obtaining the "social licence to operate" but Raven and Smith say the Chief and Council had entered into the agreement without the knowledge of the community. It is, in their view, a violation of Section 35.
"When the licensing decision came we knew this whole process needed to be addressed," Raven said. "We had no idea how serious the implications were until several scientists came forward and educated us on the dangers of a project such as this."
It was Smith who set up the tipi in February, 2019, birthing Camp Morningstar. Ironically, Smith worked for CPS before resigning in December, 2018 due to family pressure.
As a heavy equipment specialist, Smith adds that he has worked for several other companies such as SanGold and the Nelson River Project. "There were always such strict guidelines with all the other projects I worked on. I never saw a Conservation officer doing inspections." The impact study prepared by AECOM in the EPA was an existing study on an old data base that had been done on an area 200 km away. Smith had requested a copy of the study from AECOM but it was not issued.
"When people from the community would come around and ask me what was happening, why were we doing this, I tried to answer to the best of my knowledge. I have worked on joint ventures before, other jobs. The joint venture agreements were always to better the community." Smith also talks about the employment which was promised as a drawing card. "It was my 8 year old son who opened my eyes. This is our land, our tradition, our life that is being destroyed and I felt the pain."
Smith's pain like a phoenix rising from the ashes is giving him strength and redefining his purpose. "I used to make $4500 every 2 weeks but you can't put a price on what is being destroyed. To be connected to Nature, to the land, to the water, to the animals. That is what it means to be Indigenous. Not everything has to be a fight." Smith is advocating for transparency, collaboration and above all, the environment.
Both Raven and Smith see a transition happening, a surging strength. "My 17 year old daughter," Smith continues, "graduates from Grade 12 this year. All her life she's been talking about being an engineer. Now she is going into Law to be a First Nations lawyer." Raven speaks of the high school students who calmly walked out of class, walked over to the Chief's office and then over to CPS office expressing their concerns. "No one asked them to do this. They are developing the skills of critical independent thinking."
Raven and Smith are both proud of the manner in which the community youth are not only recognizing their culture but are consciously working to preserve the traditional ways.
WT phoned Wanipigow School and spoke briefly with Vice-Principal, Mrs. Sonia Bushie. Bushie was unaware of the student walkout. "We remain neutral." This apparently was, she indicated, the directive given by the School Committee that sets policy.
"We are becoming stronger," Raven adds. "I am not an activist. I do not see myself as a leader. I am just an ordinary person who wants to do what is right." Raven had begun her career in Conservation but left to become Director of Returning to Spirit, a non-profit charity. "I am back to doing what I was trained to do. Protect the environment."
Dreyson said, "This is big and getting bigger." The momentum is gathering people from all walks of life, from all parts of Canada and even the United States. Connections are being made."
Dreyson is recreating himself throughout this process as he has been realizing how deep his connection to the land is. "When this is all over I am going to make a documentary for our people. We cannot allow our traditional ways to die."
Raven adds, "People are setting aside their different opinions about race and culture and coming together on the one thing we all agree on. The Land."
Perhaps Hollow Water's loss is a process of rebirth.
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