Tribal leaders from Alaska and Canada say it’s time to work together to oppose mines affecting both sides of the border. It’s part of the growing scrutiny of projects near transboundary rivers.
Parts of Southeast Alaska are only a couple dozen miles from British Columbia. Historically, tribal groups from both sides have met, traded and married.
“Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian people who live in Alaska all have tribes, clans and relatives on the other side,” says Richard Peterson, president of Southeast’s Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He says over the years, many of those connections have been lost. Now, he says, they’re coming back.
“I’m really excited that we could remove these invisible barriers, this invisible line that they call the border, that somehow successfully separates us so well. We’re doing away with that line,” he says. Peterson spoke at a recent program in Juneau about traditional life and changes coming to parts of northwestern British Columbia.
The main issue was large mine development, which is being closely watched by tribal leaders.
“We don’t want our livelihood destroyed. We don’t want our watershed destroyed. And it’s a very sacred place to us,” says Annita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council, in northern British Columbia.
Tahltans have brought their message to Southeast Alaska for a number of years. But McPhee says most were not aware of possible impacts on rivers that cross the border. She says a meeting held this spring changed her perspective.
“One of the things I’m prepared to do is go back and carry that message. Back to our people and back to other tribes. And definitely talk to people in industry and say, just because people are on the other side of the border does not mean that it doesn’t impact them,” she says.
Much of the recent focus has been on the KSM, or Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine. It’s a gold and copper prospect, roughly 80 miles east of Wrangell, planned by the Canadian firm Seabridge Gold.
Opponents say its tailings could affect the Unuk River, which flows into Behm Canal, north of Ketchikan.
Other mines could be built near the Stikine, Taku, Alsec and Chilkat rivers.
They’re part of a British Columbia government-backed mining boom.
McPhee says her council has about 250 projects to track – and that’s too many.
“Now that this big storm has come through, we are in a place where we’re getting organized, where we know what we want and we know what we don’t want. And we know what we’ll find acceptable and not unacceptable,” McPhee says.
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