Grand Chief Stewart Phillip is president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Rob Sanderson is second vice-president of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Mount Polley tailings dam failure, Canada’s worst mining disaster.
That catastrophe in central British Columbia, which unleashed 24 million cubic metres of mine contamination into nearby lakes and waters, served as a wakeup call for everyone who values clean water, wild salmon, fishing and tourism, and ways of life intrinsically tied to pristine lands.
For First Nations and Alaska Native tribes, in particular, Mount Polley was a lightning rod. The disaster brought us together as never before. Alaskans have a clear stake in what’s happening in neighbouring B.C.; at least 10 large mines in the transboundary region have the very real possibility of tainting Alaska’s downstream waters and the billion-dollar seafood and tourism industries these rivers sustain. More so, these developments have the potential to harm our shared rivers, our coastal waters, and the salmon our cultures rely on.
Alaska Native tribal citizens travelled in May to Vancouver and Williams Lake to meet with First Nations members. We introduced ourselves in our indigenous languages and explained our ancestral ties to southeast Alaska and northwest B.C. We discussed our growing fears about how large acid-generating mines in northwest B.C. could jeopardize our children and grandchildren’s futures.
We talked about the expert panel report on Mount Polley that concluded B.C. can expect two more tailings dam failures every 10 years, unless major mining reforms are enacted. We determined that mining business as usual in B.C. is untenable.
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