Employees contracted by the Ontario-based Wolfden Resources Corp. prepare to restart the drill while working near Pickett Mountain north of Patten in 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

PATTEN, Maine — Wolfden Resources, a Canadian mining company looking to develop a precious minerals mine in Maine, is under criticism for claims made to investors regarding Indigenous rights in the state and the environmental impact the mine will have on the area’s bodies of water.

The claims originate from Wolfden CEO Ron Little’s presentation at a 2019 investor conference in Vancouver on the Pickett Mountain Mining Project, based in northern Penobscot County.

About three minutes into the presentation, which was recorded on video by conference organizer Cambridge House International, Little showed a slide discussing the location of Wolfden’s property. Wolfden is seeking a rezoning permit on its land from the Maine Land Use Planning Commission.

“There are no Indigenous rights in the state of Maine,” Little said in the video. “So this really streamlines the permitting process.” Little reiterates the claim in another video posted by Wolfden to YouTube in September 2020.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the most prominent environmental groups in the state — long critical of the project — recently collected these two videos, among others, and shared them with the tribes and posted them to its website. The council condemned the statements about Indigenous rights as racist and ignorant of Maine’s laws. Now Little is facing criticism for what he told the investors Wolfden largely relies on for cash flow.

“These videos demonstrate that Wolfden lacks respect for Maine law, Maine people and the truth,” Natural Resources Council of Maine Staff Scientist Nick Bennett said. “This behavior should disqualify Wolfden from receiving a rezoning from the Land Use Planning Commission.”

Maine’s laws regarding Indigenous land protection are not as strict as in Canada, where First Nations have a constitutional right to proper consultation before any natural resource extraction. But organizations like the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission make recommendations regarding fish and wildlife management policy, including on non-Native lands that could affect tribal areas, according to its website.

“It’s obviously not an accurate comment to suggest there are no Indigenous rights in Maine,” Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said. “We have a very robust federal relationship with [the U.S. government], especially around environmental protections.”

Dan Kusnierz, who manages the Water Resources Program for the tribe, said he was “shocked” by the comments. Kusnierz had previously given a presentation in opposition to the project, noting that it was located near several bodies of water that are important in Penobscot culture.

“It seemed like they were putting shareholders at risk,” Kusnierz said. “It’s completely ignorant of the tribes in Maine.”

But Little defended his remarks, saying that they were taken out of context.

“We reached out to the Indigenous communities in Maine well over a year and a half ago, and they were surprised we were calling them,” Little said. “When you’re speaking to a mining investor crowd, they’re looking for what are the risks of the project, and in Canada one of the biggest risks is that the Indigenous community might have a veto to not allow a project.”

Although Little told investors in the video that he has received support for the project, Indigenous groups such as the Penobscot Nation have expressed opposition, with tribes concerned that wastewater discharge from the mine could pollute the Mattawamkeag and Penobscot rivers — both sacred in Penobscot culture.

“We’re just following the process right now and taking each piece as it comes,” Kusnierz said. “From the application process so far, it looks like they don’t have what the [Land Use Planning Commission] is asking for.”

Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, have also criticized the company for lack of proof regarding the safety of their wastewater discharge.

“They have come up with nothing,” Bennett said. “They don’t have an example of a mine anywhere in the world where they can do what they’re saying.”

Little denied there would be any environmental impact from the project, and objected to the use of the term “wastewater” in general.

“It should be called excess water,” he said. “Once we filter out all those particulates, including the metals, it’s now clean water. No clean water is going to hurt any fish or any species in and around the operation, let alone getting away from the operation.”

But Wolfden has yet to demonstrate that to the Land Use Planning Commission, which is demanding additional information from the company regarding wastewater treatment, along with other information, before it holds a public hearing. Wolfden has applied with the commission to rezone 528 acres it owns around Pickett Mountain so that it can develop a minerals mine. If approved, it goes to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to obtain the mining permit.

Although public hearings were originally scheduled for July, Wolfden has requested an extension to give them time to provide the additional information to the Land Use Planning Commission. Public hearings could begin by November.