INDIGENOUS RIGHTS CONTINUE TO BE DISRESPECTED
“For me, the tailings pond disaster is our Chernobyl. I can’t see it, but it is under the ground, in the air, in the water. You think I am going to drink that water? Eat that fish?”- Xats’ull community member speaking before the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, May 2017
On August 4, 2014, Canada’s Mount Polley gold and copper mine’s 4-square kilometre tailings pond failed, releasing over 24 million cubic meters of water and mine tailings into surrounding waterways; including Quesnel Lake which is a crucial incubator for 25 % of BC’s wild salmon. The tailings pond breach, in the heart of Secwepemc territory, is considered Canada’s largest environmental mining disaster.
Indigenous peoples' who rely on the land and waters for food, medicine, and cultural practices say they continue to suffer unacknowledged health and psychological harm from the 2014 disaster and that they fear for the health of their communities, and precious, culturally vital wild salmon.
No one has been fined or charged for the tailings pond spill, and the mining company has recently been granted permission – against Indigenous peoples' wishes - to dump mine effluent into Quesnel Lake, which has led to questions about Canada’s commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2017, the Secwepemc and neighboring Tsilhqot’in, St’at’imc and Lhtako Dene nations took their concerns to the United Nations. The UN told Canada to monitor and address the impacts of the Mount Polley mine disaster on Indigenous peoples by providing safe water, food, access to health care and fair remedy and reparations. It also called on Canada to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when making decisions concerning resource development.
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Background: The human rights impacts of the Mount Polley disaster
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
I am deeply concerned
about the environmental and humans rights impacts of the 2014 Mount Polley
tailings pond breach on Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples say that they
continue to experience health and other harms as a result of the breach and
ongoing mining operations and this worries me greatly. Salmon is of
nutritional, cultural and spiritual importance to Indigenous peoples in British
Columbia but since the disaster, Indigenous leaders have advised their
community members not to fish for fear of contamination. They have not received
any remedy or reparations for the disaster.
I am also concerned that
Indigenous peoples’ opposition to permit amendments related to the mine’s
long-term water management plan were ignored and that the company was permitted
to discharge minimally-treated waste water into Quesnel Lake for five years.
I urge you to call on
British Columbia to make public the results of any government studies of the
Mount Polley disaster so that Indigenous peoples can assess the human rights
impacts and obtain fair remedy and reparations.
Further, I urge you to
respond to the concerns raised about the Mount Polley mine disaster by
Indigenous peoples and echoed by the UN Working Group on Business and Human
Rights and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Canada must ensure that decisions around review and approval of large-scale
resource development, including permit amendments, are only made with the free,
prior, informed consent of Indigenous peoples as set out in the UN Declaration
and other international standards.