The chief of a Saskatchewan First Nation located near BHP Billiton Ltd.'s Jansen potash project is calling on the province to consult aboriginal communities in the region about the potential mine.
Because the project is on private land, located 140 kilometres east of Saskatoon near Lanigan, Saskatchewan, Environment considers there to be no potential impact on treaty, aboriginal and traditional rights.
The department gave environmental approval to BHP for Jansen earlier this month.
But Chief Darin Poorman of the Kawacatoose First Nation believes what would be the world's largest potash mine will have an impact on the surrounding area.
Kawacatoose is located near Raymore, about 200 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon.
"It is inconceivable that one of the largest potash mines in the world would not have an impact on the First Nations who continue to exercise aboriginal and treaty rights in the area," Poorman said in a news release.
"Our community is just 55 kilometres from the mine site. Of course it's going to have an impact on Kawacatoose."
Poorman was unavailable for further comment Tuesday.
He said in the news release his community is highly concerned about the mine's affect on local water, wildlife and hunting and gathering rights.
Provincial environmental approval does not mean Saskatchewan has met its constitutional duties, Poorman said. He added part the purpose of the duty to consult over resource development is to avoid going to court.
"The province has no idea how we view our rights. They do not know how we traditionally used the land in our territory, or how we use it now because they have not met with us," Poorman said.
"It is simply not acceptable . The treaty our ancestors signed guaranteed us a right to a livelihood, but with each big project, each new development, our right to that livelihood is eroded. We will not sit idle while our lands and resources are taken up to the point where we can no longer exercise our rights."
According to Environment Minister Dustin Duncan's written reason for approving the Jansen project, several First Nations and Métis representatives raised concerns about duty to consult regarding the potential mine.
"However, after further review, it was again confirmed that treaty or aboriginal rights will not be impacted due to the project occurring on privately held land and having no expected off-site impacts," the decision says.
Tareq Al Zabet, director of Saskatchewan's environmental assessment branch, said there is no duty to consult with aboriginal groups on Jansen.
"Normally if a project is on private land, it doesn't trigger duty to consult with First Nations and Métis communities, and therefore they are part of the public and they get notified as the rest of the public (does)," he said.
Al Zabet added the department is in communication with Kawacatoose on the issue.
BHP says it is still working with First Nations and Métis communities in the Jansen area on employment and economic opportunities stemming from a mining operation.
Chris Ryder, the mining firm's vice-president of external affairs in Saskatoon, said it seems that both sides want the same thing.
"We want to ensure local First Nations and Métis communities around the Jansen project share in the benefits created from our investment there and that they have representative access to employment and business opportunities," Ryder said, "and I believe that's completely aligned with what the Kawacatoose First Nation wants as well."
During the past three years, BHP has engaged local aboriginal communities in talks about the potential mine, Ryder said.
The company hopes to begin training and education programs soon.