PABLO - President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau committed in March of 2023 to working with Indigenous Tribes and First Nations — including the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) — to reduce and mitigate pollution coming from mines in British Columbia’s Elk Valley by the end of this summer.
Well, the end of summer is looming and no decision or agreement has been made just yet. Tribes like CSKT are demanding answers.
“It’s evident that the pollution has increased and continues to increase," said Rich Janssen who is the head of Natural Resources for CSKT in regards to the waste coming from Teck mines
Janssen has been involved in monitoring the water pollution coming from British Columbia’s Teck mines into Montana since 2011.
“We’ve never been able to get that data from Teck that shows actually how much of the waste that they are treating," Janssen shared. "We’ve done our own math with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and it appears that they’re only treating 1% of the waste. And it’s coming back into the water [in the United States].”
He would like Teck to be more transparent. Teck has been paying hefty fines for their pollution over the years but no overarching waste cleanup has occurred.
Selenium is one of the pollutants coming into bodies of water like Lake Koocanusa which scientists say is already over the legal limit.
Selenium alters fish reproduction which then impacts Indigenous subsistence farmers and cultural resources.
“It’s a lasting impact. It’s always a lasting impact that the mining companies, once they come in and extract what they need and they leave, you know our culture is always going to be impacted and our future generations are going to be impacted," Janssen dishearteningly said.
In July, Tribes and First Nations sent another message to President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau urging a solution.
The Ktunaxa proposal includes a reference to the International Joint Commission (IJC), along with a Ktunaxa-Federal action plan. This “two-pronged approach” is based on (1) the need for an IJC-established Watershed Board to conduct an independent, transparent, and accountable scientific assessment of pollution in the watershed and perform ongoing monitoring, and (2) the parallel need for Ktunaxa-Federal action to implement solutions, restore the waters, and address current violations of the Boundary Waters Treaty, the U.S. Clean Water Act, and the Canadian Fisheries Act.
“Recently the Kootenai bands of British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana — which we’re part of — sent in a proposal for an International Joint Reference — a commission for reference — for them to start working on [a solution]. And then a second part that would include basically our involvement, the tribal involvement," stated CSKT Tribal Chairman Tom McDonald.
Chairman McDonald wants the International Joint Commission — the impartial authority that resolves transboundary water issues between the U.S. and Canada — to meet and put into action solutions offered by the Tribes and First Nations.
As stewards of the land, McDonald believes it is paramount that the United States and Canadian governments listen to and work with Indigenous people.
There was a change in the Premier of B.C. which sparked some hope for the future. “Basically, the response we got [on our plan] from the Canadian government was positive," said Chairman McDonald.
The former B.C. Premier is now a high-ranking member of the Teck organization.
"With the old Premier of B.C. now being on Teck coal mines board of directors [now] it became pretty clear why B.C. was very slow to come to the table over the past eight years," explained Janssen.
And then, momentum came to a halt for CSKT as Canada went silent.
“We have about six weeks left and we want to make sure British Columbia doesn’t lose sight of an action plan that needs to be put in play,” Chairman McDonald expressed.
If a decision either doesn’t come by the end of summer or does not include Indigenous voices, Chairman McDonald says that would be tragic.