Canadian Manufacturing

Too many Canadian cross border mining contaminants, First Nations say

The Canadian Press

Manufacturing Operations Regulation Risk & Compliance Mining & Resources Economy environment mining natural resources regulation risk

Indigenous communities in B.C., as well as Washington state, Idaho and Montana, have been contending for more than a decade with selenium and other toxins leaching into their watershed.

In a city of pinstripes and partisan power brokers, Mike Allison sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s in the wrong place — and he knows it.

“I shouldn’t be here,” the denim-clad Indigenous elder suddenly says, fighting tears beneath the brim of his trademark cowboy hat.

“I should be out on the land, working with my kids, teaching them values. I should be teaching them kids how to work with the environment, not fight for it.”

Instead, the Upper Similkameen Indian Band councillor is in a downtown D.C. boardroom, gearing up for a second day of meetings with State Department officials, bureaucrats, diplomats and members of Congress.


Fighting for the environment is exactly what Allison, whose British Columbia First Nation sits just 80 kilometres from the Canada-U.S. border, is doing in the U.S. capital as part of a tribal delegation from across the Pacific Northwest.

Their goal is an alliance with Congress and the Biden administration they hope will pressure Ottawa into a bipartisan effort to confront toxic mining runoff from north of the Canada-U.S. border they say is poisoning their waters.

Indigenous communities in B.C., as well as Washington state, Idaho and Montana, have been contending for more than a decade with selenium and other toxins leaching into their watershed from coal mining operations in the Elk Valley.

The principal player in the region, Teck Resources, has already spent more than $1.2 billion in an effort to fix the problem, with plans for $750 million more over the next two years, said spokesman Chris Stannell.

The Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, developed with help from Indigenous stakeholders, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state government in Montana, the B.C. government and Ottawa, is just part of the strategy, Stannell said.

Teck describes the plan as “among the largest and most collaborative water quality management and monitoring programs in the world,” alongside water treatment and mitigation efforts the company says have already proven effective.

But selenium levels are still too high, said Rich Janssen, head of the natural resources department with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana.

Janssen wants to be clear: the Indigenous groups in Washington on this day are not trying to end mining in the B.C. Interior, nor do they have any interest in headlines generated by protests or blockades.

But they fear ambitious expansion of mining in B.C. will exponentially worsen the environmental impact in their traditional territories, including Alaska, where open-pit gold and copper mines threaten wild salmon stocks.

“We acknowledge that Teck is trying to keep the water clean after they use it when they’re processing metallurgic coal, but they’re not willing to share their data,” Janssen said.

“With all the testing that we do downstream on the U.S. side, we see the increases in selenium. They’re already impacting our waters.”

The goal for years has been a reference, or investigation, under the auspices of the International Joint Commission — the body that mediates disputes and enforces the terms of the bilateral Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.

Canada, however, has been dragging its feet, said Janssen.

The delegation met in D.C. last week with Democrat and Republican lawmakers from Alaska, Washington and Montana, as well as officials from the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mining runoff from Canada is an ongoing “issue of concern” for DelBene, said a spokesman who confirmed on Dec. 9 that the meeting took place but provided no other specific details.

The federal government is developing regulations under the Fisheries Act in an effort to mitigate the potential impact of mining effluent, said Samantha Bayard, a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

On Dec. 9 in Vancouver, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson released Canada’s new plan to prioritize the extraction of lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements.


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