New Brunswick Chiefs sign mining deal with millions on the line

(New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant at an announcement in Fredericton over a deal for the Sission mine. Chiefs were not present at the announement. Photo courtesy of Premier’s office)

Trina Roache
APTN National News
The Maliseet Chiefs in New Brunswick have signed a deal on a mining project they have long opposed, citing government pressure on a separate tax-sharing agreement worth millions.

The province has been eager to push the Sisson Mine Project forward, granting environmental approvals back in 2015.

“These agreements will facilitate current and future resource development projects in the province, which will create jobs and increase economic activity for all New Brunswickers,” said Premier Brian Gallant in a release.

The provincial government forecasts, 300 long-term jobs and $525 million in mineral royalties and tax revenue over the 27-year life of the mine.

The agreement with the six Maliseet First Nations includes:

  • Initial $3 million when the project gets the go ahead from the federal environmental agency
  • 35% of the first $2 million in royalties every year after that
  • 3.5% of royalties over and above the first $2 million

But the proposed mine is in traditional Maliseet territory. And there’s been strong opposition to it from both the chiefs and grassroots.

In a statement released Friday, the chiefs reiterated their concerns.

“For the major environmental impacts and risks associated with the project, and the resulting infringements on Maliseet Treaty rights, Aboriginal rights, and Aboriginal title,” the statement said.

The chiefs said given the province’s eagerness for the Sisson mine, they spent a year negotiating with senior officials “exploring potential measures to address Maliseet concerns with the project.”

But it was a second, separate deal over gas and tobacco tax revenues that pushed the chiefs to sign.

The current agreement allows 95 per cent of the taxes collected by on-reserve retailers to come back to First Nations which was close to $40 million last year in New Brunswick.

The chiefs describe that money as critical to funding services and programs in the Maliseet communities.

But non-Indigenous retailers have long complained the tax deal gives First Nations an unfair advantage because it allows them to drop their gas prices at the pump. They’ve put the pressure on the province to change it.

The new deal drops the Maliseet-provincial split of the tax revenue to 70-30. But that only kicks in after the first $8 million for each band.

The Maliseet chiefs are pleased but say that the province made the lucrative tax agreement a condition of signing on to the mining project.

“This was a critical factor in the decision of many of the Maliseet governments to sign the Agreements rather than litigate against the Sisson Mine,” said the chiefs in the statement.

Regardless, the Maliseet leaders call the Sisson Mine deal “historic.”

It’s the first time the province has ever agreed to accommodate the rights of Aboriginal people.

According to the chiefs, the deal will see the creation of a joint Maliseet-Crown table to identify constraints on Maliseet harvesting rights and develop new land and resource protection and management measures to better support the exercise of those rights.

The Sisson project is still before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Its initial report indicated the project will have “significant adverse environmental effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by Maliseet First Nations.”

A final decision from the Agency is expected within months.

The traditional Wolastoq, or Maliseet, Grand Council says it was not involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement and remains opposed to the mine.

“What we’re mainly concerned about is the protection of the land and the waters,” said Grand Chief Ron Tremblay.

If the Sisson project goes ahead, it will include a large open pit tungsten and molybdenum mine and tailings pond in an area about an hour north of Fredericton. Archeologists have found around 500 Maliseet
artifacts have been found in the area, dating back over 8,000 years.

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