Peace camp set up in Hollow Water First Nation to oppose sand mine project

A proposed silica sand mine project in Manitoba has one First Nations community divided.

Members of Hollow Water First Nation, 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg, set up Camp Morningstar, a peace camp opposing the project, after exploration began on the project.

“The teepees were erected not so much as a protest or not so much as a blockade as it is for us to come together in ceremony,” said band member Lisa Raven.

The camp was started as a way to create a safe space to share concerns over the project, said Raven.

One of the main concerns is the demolition of a community trap line.

“It holds a special place in our lives,” said Raven. “If you don’t own a trap line or if you’re not in line to inherit one then this is the place where you would learn those things where you would be given access to the land.”

sand mine

(A teepee and tent set up at Camp Morningstar. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

Canadian Premium Sand (CPS) is spearheading the project called Wanipigow Sand.

The company plans to build an industrial plant to extract silica sand from Hollow Water and the neighbouring communities of Seymourville and Manigotagan.

The project was started in 2014 but by the following year it languished. The company restarted it in the summer of 2018.

Hollow Water Chief Larry Barker said the community has access to another trap line, and after extensive consultations with CPS he believes the benefits of the project outweigh the negatives.

“I know what the community is facing. This is a huge change for them but this huge change betters the lives of everybody because there’s going to be job opportunities,” said Barker.

The project is expected to create 150 jobs for the three communities.

Barker said the only employment opportunities in Hollow Water come from the band office, the health centre, the school and their convenience store.

Consultations began in phases about a month ago. First with chief and council then with women, men and youth. They will conclude with elders at the end of February.

CPS set up an office in Seymourville last summer where they already employ eight community members.

Bronwyn Weaver, a community liaison officer with CPS, is in charge of facilitating consultations between CPS and the communities.

She said the project has been designed to create the least amount of environmental damage.

Weaver said water to wash the sand will be recycled meaning the project will not remove water from the nearby Lake Winnipeg nor will it discharge water into the lake, the building will be an enclosed space to contain dust and pollution and the project will practice what the company calls “rolling restoration,” which means areas that are mined will be restored the following year.

Weaver expects the project will net 50 years of production.

sand mine

(Hollow Water First Nation Chief Larry Barker. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

Camp Morningstar members said there’s a lack of transparency when it comes to consultations.

Raven said separating consultations by groups is leaving more questions that answers.

“It’s difficult to know…the kind of questions that they’re asking or the answers they’re given,” she said.

“So, we don’t even know if the answers are consistent.”

Sand from the mine will be used in the oil and gas industry among other markets.

As First Nations groups in Alberta and British Columbia oppose fracking and pipeline projects, Barker realizes he’s in a tough position when it comes to standing in solidarity with those communities.

“It’s hard to do a balance. It’s really hard…the first ones I want to protect is my community and the surrounding communities,” he said.

The province has yet to approve project. Barker expects a decision in the next couple of weeks.

Camp Morningstar will stay until the weekend then organizers will decide what to do from there.

“I think both sides have a valid point. Jobs are needed. Opportunities are needed in our community,” said Raven.

“We also have to protect the land and our future. So who wins in that situation.”

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