Native Americans groups seek the federal government to pressure Canada to stop mining activity in British Columbia

This week, indigenous leaders from the Northwest reaffirmed their call for the federal government to exert pressure on Canada to halt additional mining activity in British Columbia, which they claim pollutes waters and poses a threat to traditional Native American ways of life in Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. This week’s call came as the federal government was meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the upcoming budget.

Indigenous representatives reportedly had meetings in Washington, D.C. with members of Congress, as well as the United States Departments of State and Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Canadian consulate. This comes at a time when the province of British Columbia intends to expand its lucrative coal, copper, and gold mining industry.

Jill Weitz, the natural resource manager for the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Tribes of Alaska, who was a member of the delegation, stated that British Columbia is making “full-steam ahead” progress toward doubling the number of mines in that province. When it comes to the management of these shared rivers and resources that everyone is dependent upon, “Tribes and downstream communities do not have a real seat at the table.”

Mining in the Canadian province already releases selenium, a chemical that has the potential to be harmful to aquatic life, into watersheds that are located in the Northwestern states of the United States of America. These watersheds include areas that are owned by indigenous communities.

According to a report commissioned by the British Columbia provincial government, the amount of money spent on mining and coal exploration in the province would exceed $660 million in 2021, representing a 56% increase over the previous year’s total.

According to Rich Janssen Jr., the head of the Department of Natural Resources for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana and Idaho, the damage that can be caused by mining contamination can be permanent.

He remarked, “We never want to see degradation of our environment, our aboriginal area that we exploit even now.” “We do not want to witness damage of our earth.” Once the effects of mining have been caused, it is extremely challenging to remove them.

Janssen went on to say that “We are in no way opposed to mining.” On the other hand, we are opposed to mining practices that aren’t environmentally responsible.

Bi-national commission

The Native American chiefs have requested that the subject be referred to the International Joint Commission, which is a collaboration between the United States of America and Canada that was established to monitor water issues between the two countries.

The United States Department of State is in favor of making a recommendation, and under the parameters that were established for the commission, it is within its power to do so on its own.

However, according to Weitz, conflicts have only ever been resolved in the past when both countries acknowledged the necessity of meeting. It is the group’s aim that applying pressure from high-level officials in the United States will convince Canada to participate in the commission.

According to a letter that was sent on November 23 to President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the request for a referral was initially made by Native American leaders ten years ago.

In the letter, a group of tribal and Canadian First Nation leaders, including Chairman Tom McDonald of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Chairwoman Jennifer Porter of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, stated that “in the decade that has passed since our initial request, contamination flowing from the Elk Valley Coal mines in Southeast British Columbia has increased to record levels.” The statement was made by the group. “In the decade that has passed since our initial request, contamination flowing from the Elk

According to Weitz, the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, which formalized the relationship between the United States and Canada for the management of water resources and established the International Joint Commission, requires Canada to take steps to reduce pollution.

Weitz stated that Canada is “abdicating their rights and commitments under that convention” by polluting water that is transported over international borders.

Janssen added that the Canadian government has not disclosed its statistics regarding the water’s quality, but he said that samples taken in the United States revealed increases in selenium.

“All that needs to happen is for Canada and the province of British Columbia to sit down with us and acknowledge that this is a problem,” he explained. “There is no longer any need for us to consider it, and there is no longer any need for us to research it. The data are available. To me, there is no room for debate.”

Additionally, the tribes of Southeast Alaska have requested a halt to the issuance of new mining permits and approvals to expand already operating mines “until a proper consultation procedure is in place,” as Weitz explained.

D.C. meetings

The group met on Tuesday and Wednesday with United States Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, and United States Representative Mary Peltola, a Democrat from Alaska, as well as members from Washington state and offices from the executive branch to reiterate their request that the International Joint Commission look into the issue.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, has also participated in numerous meetings regarding the issue. In 2019, she led an effort to express concern to Canadian authorities regarding “the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers” in a letter that was written by members of both parties.

A referral to the International Joint Commission was something that Tester requested from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a letter from the previous year.

In the letter, Senator Tester brought up the possible impacts that the proposed pipeline would have on Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy as well as the fisheries of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. In addition to this, he mentioned that the mining operators who were responsible for the catastrophic selenium pollution were employing water treatment technologies that had not been examined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On Thursday, Senator Tester released a statement in which he made a commitment in writing to work toward finding a solution to the problem.

“For decades, mining operations along the Canadian Elk River have polluted the Kootenai River watershed and posed a threat to that way of life,” he added. “[T]hese threats have been posed by the contamination of the watershed.” “Until there is a solution to this problem, I will continue to defend the state of Montana and advocate for our local communities and small businesses.”

In 2019, Senator Tester, a key member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, took credit for a provision in a budget plan that would strengthen monitoring for transboundary streams and allocate $1.5 million to do so.

Additionally, in the past, the State Department has shown support for an IJC referral. Following a meeting in June with tribal officials, a department representative stated that the agency “reaffirmed the administration’s support” for a referral in a news release that was issued after the meeting.

“A joint reference would respond to the need for impartial recommendations and transparent communication, build trust, and forge a common understanding of this issue among local, Indigenous, state, provincial, and federal governments as well as stakeholders and the public in both countries,” said the spokesperson. “A joint reference would also build trust and forge a common understanding of this issue among stakeholders and the public in both countries.”

This week, the State Department did not respond to a mail that requested a statement from them.

The Department of the Interior did not want to comment, according to a representative for the department.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Canadian government did not respond to mails seeking comment.

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