James Smith Cree Nation has come out swinging in recent years when it comes to protecting its lands.

The Cree Nation’s leadership dealt with Husky Energy after summer’s oil spill, and is now in talks with the province about a diamond mine that’s proposed only a few miles from James Smith in the Fort a la Corne Forest.

The Star-Orion South Diamond Mine site is owned by Shore Gold, and the company’s mine proposal has been in the works for more than seven years. The province recently told Shore Gold to expect a decision on the environmental impact statement (EIS) review within the next five months. The EIS decision will dictate whether Shore Gold can move ahead with any of its plans on the mine site or not.

In the meantime, the province will be consulting with James Smith about ways to mitigate the mine’s potential impacts on traditional land use.

During the consultation process, James Smith Chief Wally Burns said he wants to make the voices of his people heard.

“Our local trappers and the hunters and the fishers, they’ve always had a concern in regards to the affected trapline. I think there are two or three affected traplines being hindered and some of the people that trap can’t really go into that area,” he said.

A consultation agreement between the province and James Smith bears Burns’ signature: he says it was signed in recent years at Wanuskewin. Shore Gold was operating in the Forte a la Corne Forest long before that.

“They just went ahead and started drilling without our consent,” Burns said.

He alleges those actions took place about 16 years ago. Since then, the province has stiffened up its stance on the duty to consult.

With a number of meetings coming up with the province, Burns is optimistic they can find a way to accommodate the proposed mine’s impact on his people. This could involve financial commitments and other accommodations to ensure James Smith membership can practice their treaty rights.

“I believe in partnerships and also working together to making sure our economy is strong and making sure our people in that particular area are being looked after too,” he said.

Burns also said he believes in building relationships with companies that have a stake in his people’s land.

He recalls a conversation with Husky Energy executives last year, in which he stipulated “‘when you come into my Treaty 6 territory, you’re going to honour our values and our traditions. Right now I’m asking you and requesting you, before we talk, I want you guys to come to a sweat lodge with me.’ And they did.”

The province has granted James Smith with up to $137,000 for the upcoming consultations.

The Star-Orion site is one of only three owned by Shore Gold.