VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 17, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Without significant improvements to mining practices in British Columbia and better regulation of mining activities, the province has little hope of its natural resources playing a key role in the global transition to a low-carbon future. Instead, communities and the environment throughout B.C. face the prospect of another disaster like Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine tailings dam collapse in 2014.
“We are told by the mining industry that B.C.’s natural resources like copper, steel making coal and molybdenum for clean energy cars and wind turbines, and silver and selenium for solar cells mean the province has the potential to be a clean-energy mining leader,” says Jacinda Mack, co-founder of Stand for Water, a new movement advocating improved mining practices and better regulation of mining in B.C.
“But supplying the essential ingredients for a greener future is at risk unless mine owners can consistently and reliably match mining practices with respect for First Nations rights and the environment. Sadly, that’s not the case and, hasn’t been since the first gold rush nearly 170 years ago,” she adds.
Ms. Mack says the Mount Polley disaster was simply the latest in a history of destruction and misery caused by decades of badly regulated mining operations and the province’s failure to live up to its commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“Damaged rivers will devastate wild salmon runs and threaten the livelihood of dozens of First Nations communities that depend on them. Urgent action is needed to avoid this catastrophe,” she adds.
A project of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM), Stand for Water aims to raise awareness of the threats irresponsible mining operations pose to waterways throughout B.C., build on the collaboration struck in the Tulalip Water Protection Declaration (2018) and work with other Indigenous leaders to incorporate free, prior, and informed consent principles under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Stand for Water launches today at a community event in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
“Communities have a critical role to play in advocating for change,” says Ms. Mack, who comes from the Secwepemc community of Xat’sull. “Organizations like FNWARM are making a difference, but we need more communities to stand together and demand a new approach to mining in line with UNDRIP. Our voices must be heard.”
She says while mining is a fact of life in B.C., current practices are threatening clean water necessary for sustaining life and points out that both the province and the federal government have signed on to UNDRIP but are not living up to their commitment to incorporate the declaration into all legislation.
“Destroyed lakes, polluted lands and rivers, and the destruction of important fish and wildlife ecosystems are too high a price to pay for the short-term economic gains that may come from mining. We can and must do better”.
Ms. Mack says Canada has more mine tailings spills than any other country in the world except China. According to the BC government’s own projections, without significant changes to the current mining practices, B.C. alone can expect two tailings dam failures every 10 years.
“We also need to remind the industry that bad practices are a threat to its own interests. An increasing number of organizations are signing on to the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance’s Standard for Responsible Mining which seeks to emulate for industrial-scale mine sites what has been done with certification programs in organic agriculture, responsible forestry and sustainable fisheries,” she says.
Owners of mines that fail to meet the standard, which includes social and environmental responsibility, risk being bypassed as suppliers in much the same way that B.C. forestry companies were shunned until they improved their logging practices.
Supported by First Nations communities, NGOs, environmental justice organizations, civil society groups and a range of community and foundation funders in Canada and the United States, the Stand for Water campaign includes a speaking tour of communities in B.C. where the new documentary film, Uprivers, will be screened. It is a story about two B.C. watersheds, and the communities that depend on them. One of the communities, Xat’sull First Nation near Williams Lake in B.C., has already been badly hurt by the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster. The other, Ketchikan in Alaska, fears that the development of two massive mines near the headwaters of the Unuk River, that flows from B.C. into the community’s fishing grounds, is another Mount Polley in the making.
In March this year representatives from 20 indigenous communities and organizations from Canada and the U.S. signed the Tulalip Water Protection Declaration following a meeting in Tulalip, Washington. The Declaration encourages the signatories to work together on issues of common interests incorporating free, prior, and informed consent principles of UNDRIP and to develop environmental plans and programs that promote stewardship and protect lands and waters that sustain life.
Stand for Water, a project of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM), is a cross-border movement to raise awareness of the threats mining operations pose to waterways throughout north-western British Columbia and across the boundary in Alaska. For more information visit www.standforwater.org
FNWARM seeks to promote environmentally sound development processes that respect First Nations rights and their full participation in the process. In December 2010, FNWARM received the Canadian Boreal Award for its work in promoting responsible mining and was cited for its leading role in ensuring that the federal government rejected the proposed Prosperity Mine Project that would have destroyed Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and its environs. For more information visit http://fnwarm.com/