By Tim Kalinowski on July 22, 2021.
The Piikani First Nation will be launching a legal challenge against the decision of the Joint Review Panel which found the Grassy Mountain coalmine was not in the public interest.
In the affidavit filed with the courts on July 16, the Piikani First Nation said the Joint Review Panel should have given more weight to the economic agreements signed between Piikani First Nation and Metis Nation Region 3 with Benga Mining, and the overall economic benefits of the project, rather than to argument based around the environmental impacts of the project in making its decision about the public interest.
“The JRP,” the affidavit reads, “in its capacity as the AER, erred in law by failing to consider in its assessment of public interest the potential impacts that rejecting the project would have on the Piikani Nation, and other Indigenous groups who had secured measures (from Benga) to protect the environment as well as economic project benefits, by way of their individual project agreements with Benga.”
Piikani, the Stoney Nakoda and the Blood Tribe chief and councils all submitted letters of support for the Grassy Mountain Project after securing long term impact benefit agreements with Benga which included financial considerations for the bands.
Not everyone in the Piikani Nation was supportive of the endorsements made by their tribal leaders. Adam North Peigan, chair of the Mountainchild Valley Society, says his members were angry when chief and council decided to sign the impact benefit agreement with very little consultation with the community, and they are doubly angry now they have chosen to file a legal challenge against the findings of the Joint Review Panel.
“I am very disappointed in the leadership of the Piikani First Nation to move forward and file an appeal to overturn the decision of the Joint Review Panel,” he says. “I expected that to come from Benga Mines that they would appeal, but when I found out our chief and council of Piikani First Nation had also filed an appeal it was quite upsetting … I can tell you a vast majority of Piikani First Nation members are deeply upset with the actions of our elected leadership.”
North Peigan said the Mountainchild Valley Society would be stepping up its effort to show the agreements signed by the tribe’s leadership do not reflect the views of Piikani members on Grassy Mountain.
“We the members of Piikani First Nation feel we were not adequately consulted in a meaningful way by our leadership, and when that decision came for our leadership to support Grassy Mountain that was done, basically, without any kind of input or decision-making coming from the membership,” states North Peigan.
North Peigan said there should have been a referendum held in Piikani Nation on whether or not to enter into such an agreement in the first place, and what consultation there was, was “minimal” at best.
Piikani Chief Stanley Grier said in a statement released to the media on Wednesday that he respected the rights of people within the Piikani Nation to voice their opinions on the subject, but asserted the ultimate authority to enter into an agreement with Benga remains the purview of chief and council.
“The issue of the risks and benefits of the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project has been weighed very carefully by Chief and Council of the Piikani Nation after a great deal of discussion with experts, and consultations with our people,” Grier’s statement reads in part. “As stated previously, the Piikani Nation supports the project and believes that it is an example of how mining can be done in a way that benefits surrounding communities, mitigates environmental impact and creates opportunities for work and economic development.
“I know there are members of my Nation who take a different view,” he adds, “and I respect them and fully support their right to speak out. However, that does not change the position of the Piikani Nation. Our members entrusted the Chief and Council to make these decisions for the benefit of the Nation as a whole and not only for special interest groups opposed to the mine. While we respect the regulatory process, we disagree with its findings. We are now exploring the best route to challenge the recent decision opposing the project.”
Grier says it is the opinion of chief and council the economic benefits of Grassy Mountain to the Piikani First Nation outweigh all other considerations on the project.
“This is a difficult time in Canada for all First Nations people,” he says. “We have been saddened and understandably distracted by ongoing news regarding residential schools. A regulatory process might seem insignificant in comparison. However, Piikani Chief and Council remain focused on our goal of creating prosperity for our people, and Grassy Mountain is an important part of our plans for prosperity now, and for future generations of Piikani people.”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter