The company behind a mining project in northeastern Saskatchewan says it has prioritized Indigenous engagement and representation in response to concerns raised by nearby residents and an environmental group.
The McIlvena Bay Mine, operated by Foran Mining Corporation, is located south of Flin Flon, and is surrounded by the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) communities of Deschambault Lake, Pelican Narrows and Denare Beach. It’s also north of Cumberland House Cree Nation.
Foran Mining is currently focused on preparing for construction in the spring, with commissioning planned for late 2025.
The underground mine intends to produce about 4,200 tonnes of ore daily, extracting copper, zinc, and traces of gold and silver.
“The relationships, the partnerships that we’ve built, we’ve never taken them for granted. We always strive to do our best as a neighbour,” said Jason Linklater, Foran’s community and Indigenous engagement lead.
“We’ve been fortunate to be invited by leadership into the community to participate in information sessions, but also other community celebrations and gatherings.”
Linklater, himself, is from Pelican Narrows.
Over the summer, a group of Indigenous elders held a protest in the northern First Nation against the project. Elder Eileen Linklater, who led the demonstration, said Foran, PBCN, and the provincial government weren’t doing enough to consult Indigenous peoples who call the area home.
The environmental group For Peat’s Sake – Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs also raised concerns about disturbing caribou habitat, water contamination, lowering the ground water table on peatlands, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
David Bernier is a strategic advisor and the former chief operating officer of Foran.
“From the beginning of the environmental assessment process, we’ve been into communities several times, each of the eight PBCN communities probably four or five times each – open forum, everybody’s willing to come and discuss,” he said.
“We are aware of a few people that do have some concerns. I don’t think it’s at the elder level.”
McIlvena Bay Operating Ltd. and the PBCN have signed a collaboration agreement on the mine. At the time, PBCN Chief Karen Bird said it was an opportunity to “reap benefits of this vital resource project while preserving our Treaty and Aboriginal rights, cultural values, and environmental interests.”
Bird said the PBCN worked with independent experts such as biologists, a chemical engineer, and a senior scientist who focuses on human health.
Foran has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Cumberland House Cree Nation.
According to Foran, the project will be environmentally-friendly with water recycling, monitoring the surface and treated water, and management of tailings, a byproduct of mining from leftover rock and soil.
It will also have a fleet of underground electric vehicles for low emission transportation.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity because there’s an untapped resource in their backyard,” said Bernier about nearby Indigenous communities.
“We have people that are willing to work that are close to the mine site, so it just provides an opportunity to give people a leg up and to have meaningful employment for decades to come, potentially generational opportunities.”
The mine currently employs 100 people. If you include contractors, that number increases to nearly 200. About 30 per cent of those employees are Indigenous, something Bernier said the company is proud of, but will continue to work to improve.
During construction, Bernier said Foran will need to have roughly 490 people working on site. Efforts to fill those positions include recent job fairs in Creighton, Flin Flon and Pelican Narrows and getting “boots on the ground” in these communities.
Bernier said Foran began a “very successful” shuttle service from Saskatoon that runs three days a week. The shuttle also comes through Prince Albert, making positions more accessible to people in the city.
“It will expand to other communities once we kind of know where people are going to be going to the site from,” he said.
Linklater said Foran is working on a permanent camp for employees to live on site. While the camp will be built to accommodate all employees, they’re working on a minimum requirement of being away from work, depending on where the employee lives.
Bernier said they wouldn’t want an employee driving two hours back home after a 12-hour shift, for example.
Recent feasibility results suggested an initial 18-year lifespan of the mine, according to Foran.