An umbrella entity for 15 Southeast Alaska Native tribes seeking better protection of transboundary watersheds of three rivers is asking for a seat at the table whenever British Columbia processes permits for new mines.
The request from the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) on March 20 referenced a letter from Alaska legislators sent to British Columbia Premier David Eby on March 13.
The legislators told Eby in that correspondence that the U.S. and Canadian federal governments, as well as indigenous peoples on both sides of the border, have a responsibility and opportunity to better manage their shared watersheds in a constructive and cooperative manner.
The letter notes that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ratified by Canada in June of 2021, requires Canada to recognize rights of the Southeast tribes and their interests in territories that pre-date the border between the U.S. and Canada.
“Indigenous people of this region have successfully sustained these watersheds for thousands of years and can contribute local knowledge that considers effects of development on both sides of the border,” the legislators said.
The salmon-rich watersheds are critical to the fishing and tourism economies of Southeast Alaska, as well as area indigenous cultures and wildlife.
“Active engagement will help resolve concerns regarding risks to the environment and economic activity from mining projects on the Canadian side of the border,” SEITC told Eby.
SEITC voiced concerns that B.C. mines are likely to release pollution that would be detrimental to the health of salmon that spawn and rear in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk river watersheds.
The mine projects include the Galore Creek, Eskay Creek and the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mines. The Red Chris mine, which began operations in 2015, has a 344-foot-high tailings dam holding in place 107 billion cubic feet of mining waste.
According to SEITC, the Red Chris tailings dam has the same design as the dam that caused the Mount Polley mine disaster in northern B.C. in 2014.