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National Congress of American Indians, Alaska Federation of Natives, and Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp Say U.S Tribal Voices Missing From Boundary Waters Dispute
WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and JUNEAU, ALASKA–(Dec. 16, 2014) – The largest tribal organizations in the Lower 48 and Alaska are backing efforts to protect key salmon rivers in Alaska/British Columbia (B.C.) threatened by large-scale mining developments in Canada.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), and the Alaska Native Brotherhood & Alaska Native Sisterhood have recently passed resolutions calling for the U.S. State Department to use its authority under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and engage with Canada to protect threatened transboundary rivers.
Six Canadian mines in the headwaters of the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers are in various stages of permitting and development. One of the mines — Red Chris – has its permits and financing in place and is poised to open at any time over the objections of a group of Tahltan First Nation citizens. Each of the threatened transboundary rivers, which begin in B.C. and drain into Southeast Alaska, produce millions of wild salmon and support some of the most prime salmon habitat left in North America. Unless steps are taken to protect Alaska’s downstream waters, these transboundary salmon face potential contamination from acid mine drainage, heavy metals and other pollutants. These toxins could leach from the mines or be released in a catastrophic accident similar to what happened at Mount Polley mine in central B.C. on Aug. 4, 2014.
“The health of our rivers and streams is paramount for Alaska Natives and American Indians, especially those who rely on our traditional and customary ways of life. Since rivers do not recognize the arbitrary boundaries drawn on maps, it is the responsibility of the United States and Canada to work together on maintaining a healthy ecosystem and clean water for the protection of all of our subsistence resources,” said Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of NCAI.
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 established the International Joint Commission to ensure that “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”
“NCAI strongly urges the United States to uphold its trust responsibility to American Indians and Alaska Natives and engage the Canadian government, through the International Joint Commission, to promote the health and well-being of the transboundary watersheds. Our water and salmon are at great risk and the time to act is now,” said Pata.
Founded in 1944, NCAI is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities. NCAI passed a resolution calling the International Joint Commission (IJC) to get involved during its October 2014 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The IJC is a bilateral body charged with resolving transboundary waters disputes between the U.S. and Canada. Typically, the IJC becomes involved in matters at the request of both the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The Alaska Federation of Natives also recently endorsed an IJC review of transboundary mine developments, repeating NCAI’s position that the U.S. government needs to do so in order to uphold its trust responsibilities to Alaska tribes.
Alaska’s oldest indigenous civil rights organizations – Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) & Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) – also adopted resolutions in October at an annual Grand Camp convention in Petersburg, Alaska. The groups called on the State Department to work with the Canadian government to refer the issue to the IJC to use any and all power under the Boundary Waters Treaty to ensure that Alaska’s downstream interests are protected. “Nothing is more important than the salmon, hooligan, deer, moose and other food we harvest,” said Eric Morrison, Grand President of Alaska Native Brotherhood.
“The Canadian and B.C. mine permitting processes have not addressed our concerns. The State Department and all federal agencies must consult with tribes on this issue. The law requires it,” Morrison said.
“We’re way behind the eight ball on this. B.C. is moving full steam ahead to develop these mines and our voices are not being heard. As sovereign nations, we have the right to government-to-government consultation on any matter that affects our waters and our communities. This is our right as indigenous people and right now it’s being violated. The IJC needs to get involved,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group, a group of 12 tribes working to protect Southeast Alaska waters from Canadian mine developments. Sanderson is also, 2nd Vice President, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
“We have a huge fight on our hands but it’s heartening that our tribal partners both here in Alaska and in the Lower 48 are standing in solidarity with us. It’s time for Secretary of State John Kerry to respond to our concerns. We need his urgent attention on this matter. Our water, our fish, our livelihoods, our culture – all of it is on the line here,” said Carrie James, co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group.
To read the resolutions, learn more and take action, visit www.salmonbeyondborders.org
United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group
Director of Communications
Alaska Federation of Natives
Alaska Native Brotherhood
Rob Sanderson Jr.
Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mine Working Group,
2nd Vice President, Central Council of Tlingit and
Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
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