First Nations near proposed Sask. diamond mine cautiously optimistic about future

Three First Nations in central Saskatchewan say they’ve begun informal talks with a large multinational mining company planning a large diamond mine project in the area.

On Friday, Rio Tinto Exploration Canada (RTEC) gave notice it would be exercising its options to enter into a joint venture agreement with the project’s current owner on the Star Orion South diamond project. If successful, the move would eventually leave Rio Tinto with a majority stake.

The potential change in ownership would be welcome, according to the James Smith Cree Nation. For years, the First Nation has been battling with the mine’s current owner, Star Diamond Corporation (formerly Shore Gold).

 “We had a memorandum of understanding with them, but they quickly walked away,” said spokesperson Winston McLean.

“We never got anywhere with that company.”

In 2018, the First Nation vowed it would stop the mine unless the company signed a benefits agreement, involved James Smith in environmental monitoring programs and protected sacred areas from development.

Now, with a potential new owner, the First Nation says it is hopeful some of its concerns will be addressed.

“Rio Tinto’s approach has been very mature, very enlightened,” said McLean.

“It gives us hope that something could be worked out.”

James Smith Cree Nation, along with the Chakastaypasin First Nation and the Peter Chapman Band, are all concerned the 9,200 hectare mine project would seriously disrupt the Fort a la Corne forest and their traditional way of life, McLean said.

“We’ve been using this forest for thousands of years,” he said.” A lot of people use the forest to supplement their diet and their spiritual and cultural connections with the land.”

Rio Tinto entered into the original agreement with Star Diamond back in 2017. The project passed a provincial environmental assessment last year.

The company is still in the testing stages to see if the mine would be economically viable. Construction on the project is likely years away.

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