Alaska Natives and First Nations Unite to Fight Mining Threat to Salmon Habitat
Tribes have passed numerous resolutions of concern about how KSM and the other transboundary mines could potentially contaminate the region, including their traditional fishing grounds. Recently a delegation of tribal leaders and fishermen flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for State Department intervention. They delivered a letter signed by 40 businesses, groups and individuals asking for help.
Alaska’s congressional delegation got the message. Shortly after the Alaskans flew home, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, along with Congressman Don Young, contacted the office of Secretary of State John Kerry by letter asking him to get involved to protect Alaska’s interests. Because the mines are located in Canada, Alaska tribes feel they have less influence over the outcome than if they were on U.S. soil.
“It’s happening in a foreign country. We don’t have a lot of control over it,” said Sanderson. “They don’t even have to consult with Alaska tribes.”
The U.S. Environmental Protect Agency has raised issues regarding the KSM project, mirroring the tribes’ concerns. The U.S Interior Department has urged Seabridge Gold to consult with Alaska tribes regarding fishing and clean water.
Recently Seabridge sent its vice president for environmental affairs to Alaska to participate in a tribal meeting on Prince of Wales Island near Ketchikan regarding KSM. Seabridge’s Brent Murphy told the Juneau Empire that “the overwhelming design philosophy for the KSM project is the protection of downstream environments and that is ensuring protection also for Alaskans.”
On its website, Seabridge notes that KSM has undergone extensive review by environmental and technical experts over the past five years to see that salmon and other wild resources are protected.
But Seabridge’s assurances have done little to allay skepticism on the U.S. side. Since the meeting on Prince of Wales in late March, the newly elected president of Alaska’s largest tribe, the Juneau-based Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, has elevated the matter.
“This is a direct threat to the lifestyle and culture of our tribes’ 29,000-plus members,” said Richard Peterson, tribal president.
At Peterson’s urging, the Central Council adopted a resolution giving Southeast Alaska’s 19 federally recognized tribes the green light to work with First Nations to try to slow the development of the transboundary mines.
“We need a collective call to arms,” said Peterson.
Not all B.C. First Nations oppose the KSM mine or the other transboundary projects. The Gitxsan and Nisga’a Nations support the mine’s development. But others, including the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, who live downstream from where the KSM waste facility would be located, are opposed.
“Nass River fish are critical for the food security of the Gitanyow,” said Kevin Koch, a fish and wildlife biologist with Gitanyow Fisheries Authority. “KSM poses a major threat to the Gitanyow way of life.”
Koch noted that the Gitanyow have constitutionally protected aboriginal rights to fish in the Nass. Seabridge maintains that any ill effects from mine waste on Nass River salmon would be minimal.
Peterson is unconvinced.
“I think John Kerry should be sitting in my office talking to me right now,” he said. “We need face-to-face consultation on this. We’re a sovereign nation.”
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