Posted by: Aandeiyeen | January 15, 2015

Canaries in the Gold mine: Protecting the Ancestors yet to come in the British Columbia/Southeast Alaska Transboundary Region from Large-Scale Mining Development

Tlingit and Haida ancestral territories and ways of life
The Tlingit and Haida nations’ ancestral territories cover all of Southeast Alaska and portions of the Yukon Territory and British Columbia. The border between the United States and Canada was not of indigenous creation and we Southeast Alaskans still have family ties in the Yukon and British Columbia. Two other things do not acknowledge this political border: salmon and pollution. Our peoples’ food security, cultural existence and traditional way of life depend on clean water and salmon that are still bountiful in this region. Traditional hunting and fishing will continue to the backbone of our cultures and economies, provided that our ancestral land is respected. Yet large-scale mining in British Columbia could threaten water quality and essential salmon spawning habitat that our communities depend on.

What’s going on in British Columbia?
British Columbia (BC) is experiencing a mining boom at breakneck speed without second thoughts about the long term environmental risks. BC Premier Christy Clark is pushing for developing eight new mines and expanding existing mines throughout BC, effectively turning the province into a large mining district with no regard for salmon and other values this place has to offer. Six proposed mines are located on the headwaters and tributaries of three major transboundary rivers – namely the Taku, the Stikine, and the Unuk Rivers – that flow out of northwestern BC and into Southeast Alaska. The completion of the NW Transmission Line, built solely to provide cheap power to several mining proposals, has led to rapid industrialization of the region. In addition, a weakened federal Canadian environmental review process and defunding of environmental agencies have resulted in streamlining the permitting process for mines. The recent Mt Polley Mine tailings dam tragedy and the continued contamination of the Taku River from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief Mine attest to the real threat that large-scale mining and the lax standards and enforcement pose to the surrounding communities.

What are the regional concerns?
These proposed mines have raised concerns about the impacts to water quality, salmon, food security, community health and cultural existence on both sides of the border. The Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers are important to customary and traditional (“subsistence”) fisheries and also supports Southeast Alaska’s $1 billion commercial fishing industry. Each proposed mine as high potential to create acid mine drainage that could impair salmon and other important subsistence species such as hooligan. In addition, the average life of these mines range between 20 to 50 years, yet water treatment is estimated between 200 years or more likely in perpetuity. We have to stop and ask ourselves – is this the type of legacy we want to leave behind for future generations?

Despite these areas being traditional Tribal and First Nation territories, despite the existence of Tribes as sovereign entities, under Western law we are treated simply as stakeholders if we are invited to be engaged in the process at all. As peoples of the land, we are not simply stakeholders, we are what the stakes are being driven into. Yet to date, despite bearing the brunt of the environmental risks, the Southeast Alaskan Tribes have been not been consulted by the BC government or the mining companies and have been left out of the BC/Canadian regulatory and permitting process.

Tlingit and Haida are matrilineal cultures who inherit our identities through our mothers. As a woman of child-bearing age, the conversations that go on between my ovaries, heart, and brain are overwhelming at times. What kind of world will our children inherit? Will my future cubs be able to derive the same nourishment from this land as their ancestors did? What kind of ancestors will our generation be remembered as if we choose to do nothing in response to these threats?

We are not canaries
Clan leaders, community/civic leaders, and tribal councils: you have the honor and responsibility to protect your community’s health and wellbeing, including those ancestors yet to be born. As Indigenous peoples, we have remained resilient in the many faces of adversity. We cannot stand idly and allow for these mining projects to go forward when they have not consulted with the Indigenous Peoples and if the projects cannot be done in a manner that is respectful for current and future generations. As First Nations and as Alaskan Tribal governments, we have the ability to harness our government-to-government power to ensure that Canada and the United States protect our tribal interests. I would love to see our Canadian relations work together with the Alaskan tribes to protect food security and cultural existence. No monetary value can be place on our cultural heritage and ancestral lands because these are more precious than gold. No community, present or future, deserves to be the proverbial canary in the gold mine.



  1. Reblogged this on Lingit Latseen.

  2. Reblogged this on s-kw'etu'?.

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