Jacinda Mack of the Stand for Water campaign has said that without large improvements to mining practices and better regulation of mining activities in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, the province has little hope of its natural resources playing a key role in the global transition to a low-carbon future. Instead, communities and the environment throughout B.C. face the prospect of another disaster like Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine tailings dam collapse in 2014.
“We are told by the mining industry that B.C.’s natural resources like copper, steel making coal and molybdenum for clean energy cars and wind turbines, and silver and selenium for solar cells mean the province has the potential to be a clean-energy mining leader,” said Jacinda Mack.
“But supplying the essential ingredients for a greener future is at risk unless mine owners can consistently and reliably match mining practices with respect for First Nations rights and the environment. Sadly, that’s not the case and, hasn’t been since the first gold rush nearly 170 years ago,” she added.
Mack cited the Mount Polley disaster as simply the latest in a history of destruction and misery caused by decades of badly regulated mining operations and the province’s failure to live up to its commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“Damaged rivers will devastate wild salmon runs and threaten the livelihood of dozens of First Nations communities that depend on them. Urgent action is needed to avoid this catastrophe,” she added.
A project of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM), Stand for Water aims to raise awareness of the threats irresponsible mining operations pose to waterways throughout B.C., build on the collaboration struck in the Tulalip Water Protection Declaration (2018) and work with other Indigenous leaders to incorporate free, prior, and informed consent principles under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Stand for Water was launched yesterday at a community event in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
“Communities have a critical role to play in advocating for change,” said Mack, who comes from the Secwepemc community of Xat’sull. “Organisations like FNWARM are making a difference, but we need more communities to stand together and demand a new approach to mining in line with UNDRIP. Our voices must be heard.”
She said while mining is a fact of life in B.C., current practices are threatening clean water necessary for sustaining life and pointed out that both the province and the federal government have signed on to UNDRIP but are failing to uphold their commitment to incorporate the declaration into all legislation.
“Destroyed lakes, polluted lands and rivers, and the destruction of important fish and wildlife ecosystems are too high a price to pay for the short-term economic gains that may come from mining. We can and must do better”. Mack said Canada has more mine tailings spills than any other country in the world except China. According to the B.C. government’s own projections, without significant changes to the current mining practices, B.C. alone can expect two tailings dam failures every 10 years.
“We also need to remind the industry that bad practices are a threat to its own interests. An increasing number of organisations are signing on to the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance’s Standard for Responsible Mining which seeks to emulate for industrial-scale mine sites what has been done with certification programmes in organic agriculture, responsible forestry and sustainable fisheries,” she said.
Owners of mines that fail to meet the standard, which includes social and environmental responsibility, risk being bypassed as suppliers in much the same way that B.C. forestry companies were shunned until they improved their logging practices.
Supported by First Nations communities, NGOs, environmental justice organisations, civil society groups and a range of community and foundation funders in Canada and the US, the Stand for Water campaign includes a speaking tour of communities in B.C. where the new documentary film, Uprivers, will be screened. It is a story about two B.C. watersheds, and the communities that depend on them. One of the communities, Xat’sull First Nation near Williams Lake in B.C., has already been badly hurt by the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster. The other, Ketchikan in Alaska, fears that the development of two massive mines near the headwaters of the Unuk River, that flows from B.C. into the community’s fishing grounds, is another Mount Polley in the making.
In March this year representatives from 20 indigenous communities and organisations from Canada and the US signed the Tulalip Water Protection Declaration following a meeting in Tulalip, Washington. The Declaration encourages the signatories to work together on issues of common interests incorporating free, prior, and informed consent principles of UNDRIP and to develop environmental plans and programmes that promote stewardship and protect lands and waters that sustain life.