A powerful alliance of B.C. First Nations and Southeast Alaska natives has been forged in the aftermath of the Mount Polley dam collapse and tribes, who have not worked together for generations, are aiming to put the brakes on B.C.’s border mining boom.
Tears flowed after a May meeting in Vancouver when Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and vice-president Bob Chamberlin agreed to support the newly formed United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group in its bid for Alaskan — and particularly tribal — input into B.C.’s decision-making process on mines along the Southeast Alaska border.
“We are bringing together the tribes from both sides of the border and building a relationship. We can make more noise together than when we are separated by a border that has not been part of our tradition,” said Mike Hoyt, leader of the Teeyhittaan clan from the Stikine River.
It was a historic meeting that could be a catalyst for change, according to Phillip.
“It was very significant, coming together with our brothers and sisters in Alaska. I think it was a long time coming,” he said.
The Transboundary Work Group, made up of federally recognized tribes, conservation groups, fishing advocates and community leaders, will collaborate with B.C. First Nations to let the provincial government, mining companies and investors know their concerns about mines being approved near the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers, said Jennifer Hanlon, environmental specialist with the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
“We want them to know (the mines) are a concern for indigenous people. We’re talking about our salmon, our health and our lands. Hunting and fishing are still the backbone of our economy,” Hanlon said.
The group wants the issue sent to the International Joint Commission, the body designed to resolve U.S./Canada water and air disputes. The commission operates under the Boundary Waters Treaty that forbids either nation from polluting waters flowing across the boundary.
“Alaska needs a seat at the table when it comes to deciding whether mining projects in B.C., with the potential to pollute our waters, should go forward and, if they do, how these mines should deal with their waste, which has a high likelihood of flowing downstream into transboundary rivers,” says one of the group’s briefing notes.
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