SEITC seeks investigation into BC mines

Tribal group wants commitment that subsistence fisheries will be protected

A petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Southeast Alaska tribal entities contends that transboundary hard rock mines are violating the human rights of the tribes by polluting the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers.

The petition was filed by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice on Dec. 5 on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, which represents 15 sovereign tribal nations in Southeast Alaska. In that petition SEITC contends that four proposed mines and two already operating along transboundary waterways in British Columbia threaten the health and viability of salmon and eulachon that spawn in the waters of the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds. Canada’s government must prevent such pollution under international human rights law, because these fish are essential to generations-old subsistence practices that form a mainstay of the livelihood, culture and traditions of the tribes represented by SEITC, the petition said.

Failure to do so would constitute a violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to the benefits of their culture, adequate subsistence, use of their traditional lads, and health and well-being, the petition said.

The Inter-American Commission, created by the Organization of American States, exists to protect and uphold human rights in the Americas. Earthjustice attorney Ramin Pejan said the next step would be a ruling of admissibility from the Inter-American Commission that the petition meets requirements for them to hear the case. The petitioners must show that they have tried all remedies in Canada or that the remedies available in Canada are inadequate, Pejan said. If admissible, the commission could then hold a hearing in Alaska or in Washington D.C. to hear evidence presented by tribal representatives.

The commission could then make recommendations to the Canadian government, which has already shown they take these petitions seriously, Pejan said.

Meanwhile, said Jennifer Hanlon, vice chair of SEITC, the state’s transboundary commission has been working to be sure that SEITC has a seat at the table. “Our group has not had faith in the current processes to provide adequate safety on the downstream impact of mining, Hanlon said. SEITC’s concern is that more structure and enforceable mechanisms be put in place to monitor the mines. “We submitted this petition in order to uphold Canada’s obligation to make sure our human rights for subsistence” are upheld, she said.

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In Canada, meanwhile, the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust in Terrace, B.C., issued a new report that the group says separate responsible mining operations in northwest British Columbia from those with unacceptable environmental and social impacts.

“Too frequently, standard ways of designing and managing mine projects result in habitat loss, pollution, catastrophic failure, or abandonment of projects with a legacy of negative environmental impacts,” said researcher Michael Price, who wrote the report with fellow researcher Adrienne Berchtold.

The report recommends underground mining over open pit mining, concentrating on high-grade ore bodies and leaving low-grade ore bodies in the ground, to avoid interactions with ground and surface water and to avoid construction of large tailings impoundments requiring perpetual water treatment.

The report concludes with a case study applying guidelines for responsible mining to the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine project in Northwest BC, plus a checklist for concerned citizens to use to assess other mine projects and operators.

More information about SkeenaWild Conservation Trust is online at www.skeenawild.org.