Mining in British Columbia Threatens Transboundary Watersheds, Wildlife, and Indigenous Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – British Columbia’s plan to double the number of large-scale metal mines in the province threatens transboundary rivers that flow from Canada into Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana and will negatively impact fish, wildlife, and downstream Indigenous communities. A delegation of Indigenous Tribes, Aboriginal First Nations, and conservation leaders met with members of Congress and officials with the Biden Administration and Canadian Embassy to deliver the message that the government of British Columbia must do more to regulate these mines and the U.S. and Canadian Federal governments must honor their legal and ethical obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and act immediately to protect downstream traditional territories from legacy, on-going, and proposed mining in British Columbia.

“I came to D.C. to make U.S. officials aware of the fact that our river, the source of our life, has become so polluted that we can’t eat the fish. Our children can’t swim in it. The thing that used to be the most beautiful place in our valley is now a toxic dump site,” said Mike Allison, elder and councillor with the Upper Similkameen Indian Band. “I want to protect my children’s future but they have no future without clean water. We’ve completely lost confidence and trust in the Province’s ability to regulate and manage the mining industry.”

“Canada’s mining in our shared rivers is one of the biggest threats to our wild salmon and our Indigenous way of life. In the face of a rapidly changing climate, British Columbia continues to permit massive open-pit gold mines in the headwaters of our largest salmon producing rivers – without the consent of downstream Tribes. Our way of life depends upon the health of our transboundary waters and we will not stop until we can ensure the environmental security and stability of our shared rivers,” said Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “We have been calling on the United States and Canada to honor their legal and ethical obligations and to act immediately to protect our traditional territories from legacy, on-going, and proposed mining in British Columbia. We must get ahead of this before it’s too late.”

 “Pollution flowing from the Elk Valley coal mines in Southeast British Columbia has increased to record levels throughout the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal region, endangering our waters, fish, and health of our communities. The government of British Columbia has failed to honor its commitments to Indigenous people to stop this toxic flow and mitigate the damage that has been done,” said Rich Janssen, director of natural resources for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “The U.S. and Canadian governments must work directly with Tribal and First Nation governments to achieve an equitable, just, and scientifically-credible approach to mining pollution across the transboundary watershed.”

“It’s only a matter of time until one of the mega-dams holding back mine waste tailings will fail, sending dangerous toxins into our watersheds that will kill fish and impact our culture, traditions and way of life,” said Jarred-Michael Erickson, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. “It’s time for the U.S. and Canadian governments to demand that British Columbia hit the pause button on mine expansion, increase environmental regulations for current operations, and successfully mitigate the pollutants that have already devastated these transboundary ecosystems.”

“The watersheds we share with Canada—connecting British Columbia with Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana—are critical for the survival of salmon and many other species of fish and wildlife. Indigenous communities depend on these waters for subsistence fishing, traditional ceremonies, and indeed for their very survival,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We stand in solidarity with the Tribes and First Nations demanding that the Government of Canada and the British Columbia provincial government safeguard these shared waters, wildlife, and Indigenous communities by requiring mining operations to meet much higher environmental standards.”

“For decades, Tribes and communities in Alaska have been expressing concerns about the dozens of existing and planned British Columbia gold-copper mines contaminating shared wild salmon rivers without their consent. Instead of addressing these concerns, B.C. has doubled down,” said Breanna Walker, director of Salmon Beyond Borders. “That's why Tribes, communities and people across Southeast Alaska are calling on President Biden to secure with Prime Minister Trudeau a permanent ban on B.C.'s risky mine waste dams and for a time out on new mines in the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers until B.C. upholds the Boundary Waters Treaty and all of us connected to these rivers have a say in their future."

“The British Columbia government is putting downstream fish populations and communities at risk through reckless expansion of a mining industry that is already under-regulated,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “The U.S. and Canadian governments cannot remain silent on this issue anymore. They must engage in meaningful collaboration with affected First Nations of Canada and U.S. Tribes to mitigate existing threats and avoid additional disaster risks.”

Earlier this year, Conservation Northwest and the Colville Tribes commissioned two reports to assess the probability and likely impact of a tailings dam failure at the Copper Mountain mine in British Columbia. One report found that even a mid-range failure (the release of 40 percent of mining waste) would release a debris flow that within 90 minutes would cover the city of Princeton in over 30 feet of mining waste. A companion report estimated an annual probability of failure of a dam to be 1 in 1000 to 1 in 100. According to most U.S. and Canadian guidelines, the maximum probability of failure should be under one in a million.


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