JUNEAU, AK (February 26, 2021) – The State of Alaska and British Columbia (B.C.) recently released a joint data report (Joint Water Quality Program for Transboundary Waters) on the transboundary watersheds of the Stikine, Taku and Unuk rivers. Based on a three-year study (2017-2019), the final data report concluded the current environmental conditions in these watersheds continue to support and sustain aquatic resources.
While the data report and the work of the Bilateral Working Group is a step forward to ensure the environmental, cultural and economic values of our rivers and communities are protected, the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) has not been engaged with the Alaska-B.C. Bilateral Working Group or its Technical Working Group on Monitoring since 2018, which diminishes the collaborative effort described in the data report.
“Our way of life depends upon the health of our transboundary waters and it’s important for Alaska tribes and B.C. First Nations to be fully engaged for true collaboration to exist," said President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson. “This data report should not be viewed as a final report. No one should say they’ve found no environmental harm and conclude their efforts. This is just the beginning.”
The historical mining activities in B.C. have been a long-standing concern for Southeast Alaska tribes and serves as a warning of how mega-mines now permitted and under development in B.C. may escape regulation and any requirements for best practices, mitigation, remediation or strict liability. Meaningful engagement and collaboration is still needed to prevent the potentially devastating and irreparable impacts from hard rock mining projects in B.C. that have the potential to be many times larger than the Mount Polley mining disaster in B.C. which occurred in 2014.
“Make no mistake, Tlingit & Haida supports responsible mining,” said President Peterson. “Many of our tribal citizens work in mining, but these mines must operate safely and responsibly and with best practices and strict liability for harm to the environment.”
For the past five years, Tlingit & Haida’s Native Lands & Resources department has been collecting baseline water quality data on the head waters of several transboundary rivers in Southeast Alaska. This data was not included in the recently released joint data report. Tlingit & Haida is advocating for federal government appropriations to complete a comprehensive baseline study of the transboundary water ecosystems and water basins, along with key indicators to identify pollutants that mining projects predict will occur within their environmental documents.
Tlingit & Haida will continue to provide outreach to other governments to fulfill the Tribe’s duty to protect our way of life and seek a seat at the table along with other Alaska tribes and B.C. First Nations to implement a transboundary water resources management framework.