Two Alberta First Nations say a coal company hoping to develop a mine in the province's Rocky Mountains isn't being forthcoming with a federal agency about its relationship with their communities.
The Kainai and Siksika First Nations have filed letters with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada that say Montem Resources' description of how it has dealt with them isn't right.
"The relationship has decayed and it is no longer accurate to represent the relationship as amounting to meaningful consultation," say similarly worded letters from both First Nations.
In filings with the assessment agency, Montem says consultation on its Tent Mountain proposal with 14 area First Nations has been ongoing and regular since 2017. It says Indigenous representatives are making site visits and receiving regular updates.
"Based on this early engagement, and the dialogue that continues, Montem is confident that any potential impacts to Indigenous peoples' physical or cultural heritage, current uses of the lands, structures (or) sites will be identified and understood," says the company's project description filed with the review agency.
But the First Nations say they haven't met with Montem since July. They call meetings with the company "inconsistent and informal."
And they accuse Montem of offering $275,000 to fund impact studies on the condition the bands rescind their request for a federal review of the proposal to build a metallurgical coal mine on a previously mined area of the eastern slopes of the southern Rockies.
"Montem and Kainai have not developed a positive working relationship," says the letter from that band. "This is primarily because Montem's approach to consultation has been transactional, informal and not reflective of an adequate respect for Kainai's treaty rights and our deep cultural connection to the Crowsnest Pass."
Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot wrote: "Montem is not currently engaged in meaningful consultation with Siksika."
In an email to The Canadian Press, Montem CEO Peter Doyle said the company would try harder.
"The Kanai and Siksika Nations have expressed their dissatisfaction with Montem’s current efforts at engagement," he wrote. "We take that to heart and will work with these First Nations to rectify the situation.
"Montem fully recognizes its need and obligation for meaningful consultation."
Both First Nations oppose the project but say they remain open to engaging with the company.
They also criticize Montem's filings for not mentioning the fact that the Tent Mountain proposal is immediately adjacent to another large coal mine proposal across the provincial boundary in British Columbia. They point out the company has floated an alternative proposal for a renewable energy project instead of the coal mine, without any discussion.
"Kainai learned about this new idea through the media," the letter says.
Montem's Tent Mountain proposal is one of several coal mine proposals that have been suggested for the eastern slopes of Alberta's Rockies since the United Conservative government rescinded protections for the area. Those protections were reinstated after a public outcry over concern for the region, which contains the headwaters or most of the province's drinking water as well as one of its best-loved landscapes.
Montem is the first coal miner to file documents with the federal environmental review agency for a project in Alberta since an earlier proposal for a metallurgical mine was denied in the fall.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.
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Bob Weber, The Canadian Press