Local First Nations bands are in an uproar over the recent tailings pond breach at Mount Polley and its ensuing environmental devastation. The mine which sits on shared traditional Shuswap territory prompted a contingent from local Shuswap bands to attend the emergency meeting held at Likely’s community hall Tuesday afternoon.
“I was very shocked when I saw what happened and I can’t even imagine what the people of this community must be feeling. The impacts of this mine breach is astronomical,” Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said.
Louie was very disappointed that nobody from Imperial Metals contacted the band after the disaster. This coming on the heels of WLIB getting its first revenue sharing cheque from Mount Polley for a mere $4,500.
“I was extremely frustrated yesterday, both Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indian Bands have impact benefit agreements with Imperial Metals and not one individual from the mine contacted either one of us,” Louie said. “That says a lot about the value of our agreement — we got totally left out.”
Xat’sull First Nation (Soda Creek) Chief Bev Sellars said no amount of revenue the mine generates can ever repair the damage that’s been done.
“The BC government are blinded by the dollars the mining companies claim they will make, and ignore terrible risks they are taking with our lives, livelihoods, and environments,” said Sellars.
First Nations across the province have been lobbying for decades to enforce stronger restrictions on mining.
Xat’sull band member Tony Mack requested to Mining Minister Bill Bennett and Imperial Metals President Brian Kynoch at Tuesday’s information meeting in Likely that First Nations people need to have their own technical people on the ground so that when they get reports they know they’re accurate.
The request drew a round of applause from many in attendance including most non-First Nations.
“We as First Nations want to put our own technical people on the ground with your technical people, we want our own environmental monitors on the ground with your environmental monitors,” Mack said. “We want to be doing the same tests that you’re doing and get the same results that your getting so that when we get a report we know the report is going to be accurate and we’re not going to be getting falsified reports.”
TNG tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse has no doubt the contamination of the Quesnel waterways will be felt all the way down to the mouth of the Fraser when it comes to the wild salmon runs which First Nations throughout the Interior and coastal B.C. rely on for food and commercial fishing as well cultural and ceremonial purposes.
“Many of our people will not be salmon fishing and how can you put a price on that?” said Alphonse. “The mine failed and they should be found guilty – the impacts are far greater than one little area and it will have an impact all the way down to the Fraser.”
Effective Thursday the Ministry of Environment said salmon fishing is banned from the Cariboo River from the confluence of the Quesnel River to the confluence of Seller Creek; and the Quesnel River downstream of Poquette Creek.
With the peak migration of sockeye salmon in the Quesnel waterways system (Quesnel, Horsefly and Mitchell Rivers) expected in about two weeks the timing of the spill couldn’t have been worse. In what was supposed to be a rebound year for B.C. sockeye salmon with forecasts predicting up to three million in the Quesnel waterways, is now in doubt.
Alphonse and his people have been embroiled in a bitter dispute with Taseko Mines over the past several years over Prosperity Mine and he wonders if maybe a disaster like this will be enough to validate why the First Nations have been fighting so vehemently against the mine.
“I’ve always been fearing a catastrophe like this would happen. This is devastating for the residents of Likely who depend on tourism and those workers at the mine whose careers and lives are now put on hold — my thoughts go out to them,” said Alphonse.
The impacts of the spill have been felt across the province as Sto:lo First Nation Grand Chief Doug Kelly shares Alphonse’s concern that the Mount Polley wastewater released into the Fraser river system will impact the salmon run down into their territory (Chilliwack area).
Kelly hopes the tailings pond breach sends a message to the Minister of Mines to be careful when approving mining projects.
Chief Shane Gottfriedson of the Tk’emlups Indian Band and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council — in the wake of the incident – have gone as far as calling for a moratorium on mining and exploration activities in B.C. before it’s too late.
“I hope it sends a strong signal to the Minister of Environment that they cannot sit back and wait for disasters to happen, that they have to be identifying these threats. I’m hopeful that industry gets the message that they have to do their work responsibly,” said Gottfriendson.