Williams Lake Tribune – Stand for Water calls for better mining regulation and practices

Stand for Water calls for better mining regulation and practices across B.C. Jacinda Mack hopes others will be inspired to take action too.

 

A local Indigenous woman is leading a movement aimed at improving mining practices and better regulation of mining in British Columbia.

Jacinda Mack is from the Xat’sull First Nation, and is the co-founder of Stand for Water, a project of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining.

Galvanized by the Mount Polley Mine breach in 2014, when the tailings pond at the Imperial Metals-owned Mount Polley mine broke, pouring tailings waste into nearby waterways, Mack is touring B.C. and communities in the United States collecting the stories of locals who are also concerned about mining practices.

Through her own story, told in the documentary Uprivers that is being shown on the tour, alongside that of Ketchikan, Alaska where Tlingit activist Carrie James hopes to prevent a similar disaster, Mack hopes others will be inspired to take action.

Mack launched the tour and the movement at an event on May 17 in Williams Lake.

At the event, Mack and a number of others talked about the impact the Mount Polley disaster had on the environment and the communities in the area.

“We’re getting the story out and letting people know the disaster isn’t over,” said Mack. “It’s really important. Communities are still really being impacted.”

Through Stand for Water, Mack is hoping to collect stories from those impacted or concerned by the impact of mining, and present them in Victoria.

“My whole thing is change the conversation and talk about what we as communities need to be doing for ourselves in providing solutions and helping our leaders make good choices and provide alternate ways of dealing with mining in British Columbia,” she said.

Related: Mount Polley shares remediation plans

Joined by Christine McLean, from Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, Tara Scurr, business and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, and Elder Jean William of the Williams Lake Indian Band, the women talked about the need to ensure the environment is still there for future generations.

“We have a bloodline responsibility to those coming. What are we leaving them?” asked Mack.

For her part, and that of many Indigenous communities, Mack said the relationships to the land run deep, and as a result: “We aren’t going anywhere.”

Spills like the Mount Polley disaster have the potential to impact traditional fishing and hunting practices, leaving First Nations without the ability to sustain themselves.

“I think there are a lot of people right now who are feeling really dissatisfied with how government is handling big projects,” said Mack, adding that mining was one of the first industries in B.C. and that can be seen in the way regulations (or lack of them) are handled when it comes to mines.

“There was a lot of anger and distrust and governments always say ‘Don’t worry we’ve got a plan we know how to fix it.’ But we want to prevent it. We don’t want this to happen anywhere else.”

While mining is a reality, Mack said, if the province is looking into green energy when it comes to solar panels and electric cars, they also need to focus on cleaner mining practices.

She’s disappointed that nothing seemingly has resulted from the Mount Polley disaster — so far the mine has escaped major penalties and Mack said they continue to operate without major oversight — oversight she is calling for.

“Certainly the example Mount Polley is setting is that you can have a major disaster — the worst in your country’s history — and have no repercussions. In fact they will repermit you to reopen, use the same facility that broke, and dump continuously 365 days a year into the environment you already pollutied without any kind of consequence.”

For their part, the mine said in a March update that they are continuing to move forward with remediation, and have made progress in stabilizing and revegetating the Hazelton Creek. They also said, the tailings that went into the lake have settled to the bottom very quickly, and the Quesnel lake is recovering and meeting water quality guidelines.

Mack points to an independent report that states without significant changes, B.C. can expect two tailings dam failures every 10 years.

“The industry will always say it is about jobs; if you don’t support mining you are against jobs. Absolutely not. This is not what we are saying at all. We are for clean water, we are for healthy communities, we are for sustainable living. People chose to live here because they love it here. They love the way of life, of being here, so we get that and we want to support that and we want our communities to be able to thrive and to be healthy and to be safe.”

Related: Mount Polley to begin dredging Springer Pit

When asked whether the Province’s current fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline is a good sign, Mack said she is feeling left out.

“It’s is great [Premier John Horgan] is so passionate about protecting the water, but what about mining? Why have we not addressed the elephant in the room?”

It’s been left up to communities to advocate for themselves, she said.

“That is a real problem that we are facing, because he government is upholding the interests of a corporation over the interest of its own people and we think that is wrong and needs to be corrected.”

The Upriver documentary and the Stand for Water tour will continue, heading to Smithers on May 29, Hazelton on May 30 and Terrace on May 31. Other dates throughout the province and in the United States are being set for later on in the spring and fall.

Mack hopes to build the grassroots movement through the tour, as well as to build connections between communities with similar interests, that may have been isolated before now.

“I talked a little bit about bloodlines not borders, and that is really having these deep community connections and interconnections. How do we support each other? How do we share information? How do we empower each other?

“We are disempowered right now people are really frustrated and they are really afraid and we want to make sure that we are out there saying lets do something about it because we are not seeing our governments do anything.”

Mack said she does it because of the love she holds for the land and her community.