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Frontier Lithium project has northwest Indigenous opposition

An online petition started by a Sandy Lake First Nation member has collected more than 12,000 signatures as of June 26
Sandy Lake Chief Delores Kakegamic

SANDY LAKE — An online petition against Frontier Lithium’s PAK Project is nearing its goal of 15,000 signatures, but Gary Mamagesic likely won’t be adding his name to the list.

Not that the Sandy Lake First Nation member thinks open-pit lithium extraction south of his community is a good idea.

Mamagesic said he grew up in Red Lake, where his father worked at an open-pit mine, so he has seen the ugliness of open-pit mining.

Then there are his concerns about environmental impacts.

“They’re going to need a lot of water and all the chemicals that are involved (in lithium mining),” he said.

He said water levels could drop, adversely affecting the abundant fish supply Sandy Lake now enjoys.

Mamagesic said he’s concerned that “once they’re done, we’re going to lose it all.”

But he said he likely won’t join the petitioners because the project seems too far along to stop.

Thousands of people feel otherwise about the petition at; it has collected 12,457 signatures as of noon CDT Wednesday.

The petition says the PAK project “poses a risk to our traditional lands, our people, everything in the vicinity.”

Water pollution, deforestation and “loss of traditions and culture (invasion on historical trap lines that’s been utilized for generations)” are listed as some of the negative ramifications of an open-pit lithium mine.

In geologist Peter Holling’s estimation, however, Frontier’s project “is actually probably going to be some of the cleanest hard rock mining that we’re likely to see in the region.”

The mine would not pollute waterways much and it would be “basically producing road aggregate” as leftover material, he told Newswatch.

The petition implores people to “stand together and save what is rightfully our Indigenous right.”

Navaeh Rae, the Sandy Lake First Nation member and Lakehead University student who started the petition, said she hopes her First Nation’s chief and council will “hear the community and maybe have a (community) vote to let the people have a choice.”

Sandy Lake Chief Delores Kakegamic became chief in 2018, two years after her First Nation signed an exploration agreement with Frontier Lithium.

“But at the time, I don’t think the exploration agreement was explained properly,” she said last week.

“It didn’t go through any legal eyes, which is to say it wasn’t brought to our legal team. And things have changed since. For me, it’s a one-sided agreement.”

She said there needs to be more substantive community consultation on the issue.

Asked whether she’s for or against the PAK project, she said, “It’s hard to say. It’s got its pros; it’s got its cons.”

Frontier’s project at Pakeagama Lake aims to extract lithium, essential to electric vehicle batteries, from land straddling the traditional territories of three First Nations in northwestern Ontario.

Frontier signed exploration agreements with those First Nations — Sandy Lake, Deer Lake and North Spirit Lake — in 2016 and 2017.

A website for the project states that the mining company “recognizes the importance of developing and maintaining strong relationships with Indigenous peoples” and intends “to meet or exceed rigorous regulatory requirements.”

Japanese automobile manufacturer Mitsibushi has invested in the project.

Clara Lauziere, Frontier’s director of sustainability, described the petition as “an opportunity for us to listen.”

The company has “been ramping up engagement with communities” in a process that includes “listening to concerns” as well as “getting the message out to communities in different ways to learn about the project,” she told Newswatch.

Frontier is engaged in a process of “finding ways to resolve concerns and work through those concerns to find a path forward that’s positive for everybody,” said Lauziere.

— NWOnewswatch