In early October, Andrea Polchies, a Wolastoqiyik Grandmother from Woodstock First Nation, alerted allies about activity on the proposed site of Sisson mine and tailings pond. Road widening done by an excavator with a chipper had happened in late September, but it was not clear why this was happening or who was directing the work.
There have been various proposals to build a tungsten and molybdenum mine in the Upper Nashwaak, near Stanley, for many years, with the most recent being proposed by Northcliff Resources of Vancouver and Todd Minerals of New Zealand.
The conditions set out in the Environmental Impact Assessment for this project have yet to be met and by many accounts the project seems to be dead in the water. However, news like this crops up from time to time and sets Indigenous opponents, community members and environmental activists into a new wave of anxiety.
On October 16, myself and Lawrence Wuest, a researcher and local opponent of the mine drove to the site to investigate. For years I’ve relied on regular email updates from Wuest to understand the changing situation between Northcliff, Todd Minerals and the Government of New Brunswick.
Before leaving home, I filled my gas tank and packed my hunter’s orange. I felt better travelling with someone else in the vehicle – a person could get terribly lost on those access roads. Just past Napadogan, we left the road and made a 30 km/hour meander around boulders and washouts to get to the site. This area is unceded Wolastoqiyik land, also known as Crown land, that has been divided into leases for multiple forestry companies. The cut-over forest is massive and covers a vast tract of land in the Nashwaak Watershed, running south of Highway 107 from Napadogan, to Deersdale and down to Currieburg near Stanley.
The proposed site of the mine and the extensive tailings pond has been the home to a camp of Wolastoqiyik grandmothers and others from different communities for the last five or so years. The camp is visited from time to time by supporters. When I made the first trip in 2018, there were tents and tent trailers. Now there are two off-grid cabins on site with one resident in each. Nick Polchies, the son of Andrea Polchies, has lived on this land for the last six years.
Polchies does regular patrols and report-backs to the communities about what is happening on the land. This is how we came to know about the roadwork at the site. He says, “It doesn’t seem like there is drilling happening right now, but no one is supposed to be working on the land without permission. These guys don’t seem to work directly for the forestry companies. I think they are probably contractors. Even so, they can’t be here.”
There are a lot of different kinds of activities that happen in the area like tagging trees for thinning, or people just around in the area generally without a reason. Polchies says, “The project area is restricted, but we aren’t trying to stop people from doing things outside of the project area.”
The camp is 13 kilometres from the main road, which is about 60 kilometres from Fredericton. It is an isolated life. Polchies says that he is glad to be there. “I thought for a long time that I would want to live in the woods. I feel good here.”
The other resident has lived on-site for three years now, so Polchies is not alone if there is an emergency. There is cell and Internet service, but still, life can be intense. Last winter there was a thaw and then a deep freeze and the pumps going into the well casing froze hard.
Even though he likes the solitude in the woods, there is certainly a commitment involved being here. When asked what will it take for him and the people in his community to know that this is finally over and not worry, Polchies answers, “Never. Maybe it is about them proving that they can win this. Someone else could always buy the land in the future. I don’t know if it will ever be safe.”
Wuest comments that, “There is no hope of this ever being a profitable mine. First the focus was on the molybdenum and then when those prices fell, it was on the tungsten. It seems like a game; somehow, they can continue to get money from investors.” You can learn more about the financial situation in Wuest’s August 2022 article, “Has the Sisson mine tanked? Analysis: Controversial project sees capital and operating costs rise, while investor value plummets.”
Before we left the cabin, I asked: how can people help? Polchies says that donations of lumber and concrete would be welcome (although the concrete work won’t happen until next spring). A predator-proof chicken coop and some other infrastructure is needed on-site. Polchies says that he prefers donations of materials rather than money, because it is more transparent that way. For people who simply can’t access such a remote site, there is an online giving platform set-up. Donations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For anyone wishing to visit the site in solidarity, it is important to call ahead. There aren’t enough warming spaces for people in the winter, but the rest of the year, Polchies says that people could come up with advance notice. You can email the same address as above to get connected. As mentioned, the network of logging roads is vast and you may encounter logging trucks. It is not recommended that you try to visit this site without a guide.
After our visit with Polchies, Wuest and I drove another few kilometres to investigate the road clearing work. We see the excavator tracks and chewed up trees, but the Acadian Timber sign in a pile of leaves is the only evidence that we find as to who has been in the area generally. I pulled my vehicle over on the way back to take a photo of the valley that is proposed for destruction. The entire area would be a tailings pond if the mine were ever to open. As a downstream resident on the Nashwaak River, I hope that I never see that day.
Read more NB Media Co-op stories about the mine proposal and its history.
Amy Floyd is a regular contributor to the NB Media Co-op and an advocate for strong, rural communities.