Juneau, AK (April 25, 2023) – The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) recently issued a joint letter with 11 First Nations and Indigenous tribes of Canada and the United States (U.S.) calling for the governments of Canada and British Columbia to honor their legal and ethical obligations and act immediately to protect our recognized traditional territories from legacy, operational and proposed mining in British Columbia.
For more than a decade, many First Nations and Indigenous tribes have sought Canadian and provincial action to reduce contamination from British Columbia’s abandoned, developing and operating mines in the headwaters of shared transboundary rivers.
“Tlingit & Haida has long advocated for the U.S. government to uphold its trust responsibility to tribes and to utilize any and all powers under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to ensure that our cultural existence and community health are not harmed by upstream development in B.C.,” said Tlingit & Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson. “The conservation and restoration of our traditional lands and waters is crucial to maintaining our way of life and is an expression of our sovereignty. We will not stop until our concerns are addressed.”
Under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, Canada agreed that “waters flowing across the [U.S.-Canadian] boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”
The U.S. Department of State has the authority under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to pursue protections by referring a boundary waters matter to the International Joint Commission (IJC) for thorough review.
The joint letter released requests the governments of Canada and British Columbia to take seven specific actions to begin to fulfill their obligations to protect human health, honor Aboriginal and Indigenous nations, and preserve our shared transboundary ecosystems for future generations.
In addition to the 11 First Nations and Indigenous tribes that have issued the joint letter, nine Southeast Alaska municipalities have adopted resolutions supporting the requests made by tribes.
Tlingit & Haida, along with the First Nations and tribes who signed on to the letter, are united in calling for immediate action on transboundary mining pollution.
Tlingit & Haida is the largest federally recognized tribe in Alaska, representing over 35,000 tribal citizens worldwide. Southeast Alaska communities stretch over 43,000 square miles. This region encompasses a 525-mile strip of coastline and interior waterways, bordered by Canada on the north, south, and east, with the Gulf of Alaska on the west. Tlingit and Haida peoples have stewarded their traditional lands from Southeast Alaska into the Yukon and British Columbia since time immemorial and continue doing so as a sovereign nation; Tlingit & Haida maintains a government-to-government relationship with the United States and is a regional coordinator for collaborative stewardship projects with tribes, government entities, non-profits, and other groups.
The shared T'aaku (Taku), Shtax'héen (Stikine), Joonáx̱ (Unuk), Aalseix’ (Alsek), and Jilkaat (Chilkat) Rivers originate in the boreal forests of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory and outflow into Southeast Alaska’s iconic Inside Passage waterways. As a temperate rainforest ecoregion, Southeast Alaska depends on the health of its waters, which are threatened by rising temperatures and other climate change impacts, water quality decline, and commercial development including mining. These watersheds are of tremendous and unique cultural, ecological, subsistence, economic, and recreational value; they connect icefields to oceans and are home to woodland caribou, black-tailed deer, mountain goats, brown bears, wolves, five species of Pacific salmon, forage fish, seals, sea otters, red and yellow cedar, berries, wild medicines, and countless other foods and culturally significant resources. These lands and waters provide incredible opportunities for large-scale, collaborative projects that can connect and restore the lands, waters, and wildlife that are the foundation of our cultural existence and economic welfare.