Immediate Review of B.C. Mining Safety Demanded by Alaska Native Leaders – by Richard Walker (Indian Country Today – September 15, 2016)

An organization of Alaska Native leaders wants the U.S./Canada International Joint Commission, formed by a 1909 treaty, to ensure British Columbia mines use best practices to prevent contamination of rivers that cross from Canada into Southeast Alaska.

They also want Alaska Native governments to be consulted because their territories, economies and environmental health are at stake. The United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, a union of 15 federally recognized Alaska Native governments in the state’s southeast, takes issue with a September 8 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry from Alaska’s congressional delegation.

The congressional delegation asked that the federal government “partner with Alaska to press Canada on policy answers” regarding mining, “encourage British Columbia officials to consider the cumulative impacts of mining and their potential impacts on transboundary waters,” and determine whether the International Joint Commission “is a suitable venue to determine whether Canadian mines are following ‘best practices’ in treatment of wastewaters and acid-producing mine tailings.”

The United Tribal work group says the International Joint Commission’s involvement is needed now to ensure there are adequate safeguards to protect the salmon-rich Stikine, Taku and Unuk rivers from potential mining risks upstream in British Columbia. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, the Taku is Southeast Alaska’s top salmon-producing river.

The United Tribal work group also says the commission’s involvement is required under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

“We don’t need more research on whether the [joint commission] is relevant,” work group chairman Fred Olsen said in a statement issued by the organization. “It has been relevant for over 100 years. When you have a tool tailor-made for the job, you should use it.”

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