The pros and cons of the proposed Grassy Mountain coal mine in southern Alberta are still being weighed by members Piikani and Kainai Nations.
The Blackfoot communities run along the eastern slopes of the Rockies near the proposed site for the coal mine.
All Treaty 7 Nations have written letters of support for the project.
But Adam North Peigan of Piikani Nation is still working to educate residents with virtual meetings.
“Now that this project has sort of moved itself a long, there is nation members, including myself, that are really concerned about it,” he says. “And I think it’s time to put the brakes on and step back and kind of look at the big picture.”
The project being proposed by Australian owned Benga Mining is a steel making coal mine that will be developed on a previous mining area.
It’s projected to produce 93 million tonnes of coal over the mine’s 23-year lifespan.
While it’s estimated that the project will provide hundreds of jobs and bring in economic benefits, a number of groups have formed in an effort to stop the mine because of the potential economic impact.
One Facebook group has more than 23,000 members.
“This is something has not happened in Alberta, we are always at odds so I’m hoping that maybe this is an educational opportunity for the general Albertan to learn about what these lands mean, who these lands belong to,” says Latasha Calf Robe of the Kainai Nation who created the Niitsitapi Water Protectors Group.
She calls the mine an attack on tradition, culture and livelihood.
“These mountains as a whole, hold the stories of how our people came to be, how we came to steward and occupy these areas of land,” she says. “There’s so many things at risk here whether that be water quality and quantity, whether that be the impacts on wildlife.
“It’s hard to expect a foreign company to understand the complexities of First Nations way of life and connections to the land. If they did understand that they wouldn’t be coming here trying to decapitate and blow up mountains.”
When the Piikani chief and council wrote a letter of support for the mine in 2019, North Peigan says the community members were left in the dark.
“We didn’t really have too much information on the detail of the grassy mountain coal mining project that’s within our territory,” North Piegan said
On Jan. 21, 2021, Chief Stanley Grier of Piikani reiterated his support in another statement.
“Today’s global economy heavily relies on a wide variety of commodities including steel, and as such, there is a strong demand for metallurgical coal. Responsible resource development can create thousands of good-paying jobs, something that our neighbours in surrounding areas have taken advantage of for decades,” the statement says.
“Our Nation, through our Consultation Policy, have undertaken exhaustive traditional land use reviews along with environmental and ecological studies and have implemented an extensive cultural and environmental monitoring program for the entire life of the mine. Therefore, we are confident that the proponent Riversdale Resources will mitigate and protect to the highest degree any risk to the environment.”
APTN News reached out to Grier and the Piikani for a comment but they did not respond.
The Grassy Mountain coal mine is currently being reviewed by provincial and federal regulators.
If approved, construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021.