Canada threatens 15 Alaskan tribes’ right to a healthy environment: claim

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Fifteen Alaska tribes filed a complaint this week with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that mining in B.C. threatens their right to a healthy environment.

A coalition of 15 Alaskan tribes bordering British Columbia’s Golden Triangle region says Canadian mining operations threaten their right to a healthy environment.

The allegations, made in a 112-page brief filed this week with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, say Canada failed to properly consult the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes. Together they are united under the Southeast Alaska Native Transboundary Commission (SEITC) to oppose BC mining in the headwaters of three rivers.

SEITC Executive Director Guy Archibald, arriving at the Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, said the tribe is seeking enforceable protections to ensure rivers downstream of the mine are not polluted by runoff from the Canadian side.

“We have rights that need to be protected here. And the province of B.C. and the mining companies are doing nothing to protect these rights,” Archibald said.

“They never once confronted us and asked us how we would use the river.”

Claims to target large mines on three rivers

SEITC’s latest argument builds on an earlier argument the human rights group acknowledged last fall that expanding mining operations on B.C.’s side of the border could violate the human rights of Alaskan tribes.

This initial submission states that Canada received the free, prior and informed consent of tribes to support six mining projects in the upper reaches of three British Columbia rivers that flow into Alaska. He claims he couldn’t.

These included the Shaft Creek, Galore Creek, and Red Chris mines in the Stikine watershed. KSM Mine and Bruce Jack Mine in the Unuku Basin. and Tulsequa Chief Mine in the Taku Basin.

Together, these mines pose an “immediate and foreseeable threat of contaminating downstream waters with highly toxic heavy metals” and pose a “sustainable threat” to the fish that tribes depend on to survive and sustain their cultures. This could lead to a “substantial” decline, the latest brief said.​

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The Brucejack gold mine, located at the headwaters of the transboundary Unuk River, is one of two large-scale mines operating on the BC side of the Golden Triangle region. During construction, Alaska tribes reported seeing “a large amount of trash” being washed into the river, said SEITC Executive Director Guy Archibald.Photo credit: Chris Miller

Canada claims the tribe’s petition is “manifestly unfounded or disorderly” and denies that the mining project risks “significant environmental damage.”

The petition is scheduled to move on to the merits stage, where the Human Rights Commission will determine whether there is a human rights violation.

The body has no power to force that decision. Instead, if human rights violations are found, the commission will send a report detailing its findings and make recommendations to member states.

Alaska tribes fear ‘very important’ fish stocks could be threatened

The cross-border region between BC and Alaska has long been a mining hotspot. But for those living downstream from the megaproject, the gold and copper excavations brought more anxiety than wealth.

Mr Archibald said when the Eskei Creek mine, one of the world’s finest gold mines, was in operation from 1994 to 2008, the Eurachon flowing into the Unuk River first diminished and then disappeared.

About 10 years after the mine closed, the fish started coming back every year and their numbers increased. And while smelt, long prized for its oil, has not returned to historic levels (which Archibald blames on untreated mine waste still flowing into Unuku), coming weeks will bring They are hopeful that the traditional harvest will take place for the first time. In a year.

Such food sources are important to tribal communities spread along rugged coastlines carved by rivers and fjords. There are few roads and everything is transported by plane or barge.

“This is more water than land,” he says. “As a result, commercially available foods tend to be incredibly expensive and of very low quality.”

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The Unuk River is one of the transboundary watersheds in southeast Alaska. (USGS)

Mr Archibald said fish such as salmon remained a “very important” staple food sustaining local diets. But more than that, salmon and the rivers in which they swim are closely tied to tribal identity and culture.

Last month, SEITC submitted evidence to environmental regulators on the Canadian side of the border acknowledging its historic presence along the Unuku River. This body of water is said to have been revealed to seven tribes “through dreams.”

The BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) confirmed it is currently reviewing information provided by SEITC.

“EAO’s long-standing and current practice is to engage with potentially affected Indigenous communities in Alaska where there are potential transboundary impacts associated with proposed projects in British Columbia.” the office said in an unsourced statement.

“Meaningful engagement with potentially affected communities is essential to ensure the responsible development of mineral resources in transboundary areas.”

Climate change, fish and gold on a collision course

Climate change is pushing the world’s frozen environments below freezing, and glaciers and the alpine regions they occupy are melting.

This is expected to be a boon for the transboundary region, where melting rivers are expected to open up thousands of kilometers of new salmon habitat, providing refuge from hotter rivers to the south. There is a possibility that

But research published last November suggests these salmon could be in direct conflict with mining companies looking to cash in on B.C.’s new gold rush, and a recent study found that “the structure of a Ponzi scheme” It is said that there are “physical and operational characteristics”.

In a November 2023 study at Simon Fraser University, lead researcher Jonathan Moore analyzed how many mining claims overlap with glaciers. He and his team found that in 25 of the 114 rivers surveyed in transboundary areas, more than half of future salmon habitat is within 5 kilometers of mining claims.

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Mining claims by company in the BC-Alaska transboundary area. EIA

That overlap worries people like Heather Hardcastle, a campaign adviser for the Juneau-based advocacy group Salmon State. As the Golden Triangle region moves further down the road to industrialization, she worries that thousands of miles of exploratory drilling will pollute waterways vital to fish.

Hardcastle said earlier this year that “something like a U.S. penny made of copper in an Olympic-sized pool would be enough to disrupt a salmon’s navigation system.”

The worst part is that Canada and British Columbia are promoting mining projects “under the guise of developing critical minerals for a clean energy transition,” said Ramin Pejan, a senior lawyer representing SEITC. He said that gold is being produced.

“It is deceptive and misleading,” he said in a statement.

“I can’t receive meaningful consultation”

Archibald said most of the mines the tribe is concerned about haven’t actually been built yet. He pointed to KSM and Galois Creek, which he said could become one of the world’s largest open-pit mines.

So far, Canada and British Columbia have approved three of the six mines. Two are in operation and one has environmental certification. Meanwhile, new Polaris and Esk Creek are proposed and in the permitting stage.

But while talks with the Tahltan Nation have been successful and plans to reopen Eskei Creek have moved forward, tribes on the U.S. side of the border have not received the same treatment, despite Canadian case law urging the government to do so. Archibald says he hasn’t received any.

“There has been no meaningful consultation,” Archibald said.

“It’s hard to look into the eyes of your children and grandchildren.”

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