Interior First Nations

September 10, 2014 17:49 ET

Interior First Nations Demand Answers, Action and Accountability on Mount Polley Mine Tailings Pond Disaster

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Sept. 10, 2014) - In the wake of the Imperial Metals' Mount Polley tailings pond breach, the Interior First Nations are calling on the Province to answer their questions and take immediate action to hold Imperial Metals accountable for this environmental disaster.

The Mount Polley Mine is located in their traditional territory and their members have used the area and the waterways around it for countless generations. The First Nations asserts aboriginal rights and title in the territory and are therefore extremely concerned about how the Province and Imperial Mines are cleaning up the spill. Chief Michael LeBourdais of Whispering Pines explains his community's worries: "our nation was devastated to learn of the Mount Polley spill. It is too early to say just how far-reaching the impacts will be. These watersheds are critical to our ability to carry on our way of life and to protect our aboriginal rights and title. We need to be a part of ensuring this landscape is rehabilitated and stays healthy."

But, to date, the Province has not involved Whispering Pines in the plans for managing the spill and has left the First Nation in the dark as to any investigations, which Chief LeBourdais says is unacceptable. "We are extremely disappointed that neither the Province, nor Imperial Metals has contacted us directly to talk about the spill, its effects, or how the Province and the company plan to take on the enormous clean-up. We believe the Province has a duty to consult with our Nations about how and why the spill occurred and how the spill will impact our Nation (community) and our lands. It is imperative this discussion starts now."

Whispering Pines is now asking the Province to immediately commence consultation about the spill, its investigations and clean-up plans. It is also calling on the Chief Inspector of Mining to exercise his powers under the Mines Act to order the mining operation to be closed, or to cancel Imperial Metals' permits. Chief LeBourdais explains, "This will allow our Nation (community) and other British Columbians who have been affected by the spill to be consulted on whether and how this mine should be designed and operated in the future." Chief Michelle Edwards of St'at'imc says "Consultation and engagement needs to include communities downstream. St'at'imc member communities also have serious concerns about the downstream impact to the fisheries and surrounding habitat on the Fraser River."

In the meantime, the Whispering Pines and other Secwepemc communities have already begun the work of documenting the effects of the spill. Some members have established a Sacred Fire and Senxiymetkwe Camp near the spill area to monitor the environmental impacts of the spill and take testimonies. They are alarmed at the overall water quality and have observed the tragic consequences of the spill on aquatic life. "Accountability is essential, our People had to go out directly to get firsthand accounts, the Mnt. Polley spill is not only the worst in BC history it is the worst internationally and nationally as we do not know the extent of the bio accumulation effects to the salmon, water, soil, and to our People. This involves all of our People of the River from Quesnel Lake the Fraser to the oceans and all citizens of BC. "There must be an independent table with First Nations and experts panel outside of the provinces to be accountable and transparent to findings and restoring the waters plants, salmon to their natural state" says Chief Judy Wilson of Neskonlith te Secwepemc.

"This spill has put the short and long term health of the ecosystem in the First Nations territory at great risk," said Chief LeBourdais. "With our rights and title at stake, we have a strong interest in ensuring that mining conducted in our territory is managed safely and sustainably, and with our input. We are deeply troubled that the Province continued to allow Imperial Metals to keep operating despite repeated warnings about its tailings pond. The clean-up needs to be done right. And more needs to be done to make sure this never happens again."

Contact Information

  • Chief Michael LeBourdais

    Chief Michelle Edwards

    Chief Judy Wilson

    Chief Francis Aleck