Lac La Ronge Indian Band, residents continue to fight against peat harvesting on traditional land

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band and residents in the area are voicing their concerns about plans to harvest peat from traditional land.

Lambert Peat Moss, a company based in Quebec, plans to harvest from four sections of land south of La Ronge – but it’s facing concern that the project would harm wildlife and traditional use of the land, such as for trapping, ceremonies and collecting medicines.

Over 20,000 people have signed an online petition created by Kona Barreda, a member of the Facebook group "For Peat’s Sake – Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs."

“I feel a strong connection to this land, and I just feel like my ancestors are all here with me and they are pushing me to protect this land,” said Barreda.

“You see all the destruction everywhere,” she said. “They’re going to destroy the one thing that we have left it seems like. I just felt outraged.”

Miriam Körner is also part of the group of concerned residents. She said the vegetation will not regrow in her lifetime.

“All of the sudden this logging is happening and land is being taken away everywhere, and the areas that are left natural are becoming smaller and smaller,” said Körner.

She said she moved to the area because of the land.

“I always find I can breathe different in the muskeg, and now I learned from the elders that the muskegs are called the land of our mother,” she said.

“You feel a presence there. It’s a really old and special place.”

It’s unclear whether or not the project will move forward, according to a statement from Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment. It said Lambert is conducting an environmental impact assessment. Following the assessment, residents will be able to submit feedback for the minister to consider in his decision whether to accept or refuse the project.

In a statement to CTV News, Lambert said it understands the hesitation from the band and residents.

“Lambert is still in the early stages of consultation and engagement with all affected Indigenous communities and stakeholders. This process has obviously been substantially held back and limited because of COVID-19 restrictions,” it said.

“Because of these delays, they have not yet been able to provide the findings of the baseline studies and assessments of the environmental and socio-economic effects. We feel as though this information, and the resulting recommendations from qualified environmental professionals, will help to alleviate many of the concerns.”

But Körner says the traditional use of the land should overrule all other uses: “I don’t think there’s any way that there can be a mutual benefit.”

Sam Roberts is a councillor for the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. He said the band’s decision to oppose the peat harvest project is primarily because of how it would affect its members.

“We soon realized how much of an impact it would make on our land users and our people there, the trappers in the area,” he said.

In a news release, the band said drainage of the wetlands would be harmful to fish and other wildlife, including woodland caribou. It added that the impact on ceremonial use of the land would infringe on treaty rights.

On Lambert’s website, it says the project would include tree cutting and surface vegetation mulching, drainage, upgrades to access roads, restoration and monitoring.