(Dakelh Traditional Territory/Prince George, B.C.) At yesterday’s news conference, the Tlazten First Nation announced a moratorium on new mining activities in its traditional territory in response to Teck Cominco's failed dam at Pinchi Lake, situated within the Band's territory and adjacent to a number of its lakeshore reserves.
"We want to make them accountable," said Chief Thomas Alexis, referring to the company and its role in the failed dam late last year.
He told media representatives in attendance and those participating by telephone that the level of mercury-contaminated waste and debris released into the lake was hundreds of times higher than that of the lake itself, which was already contaminated by previous mercury mining undertaken by the company. This information contradicted a recent media report that had quoted the Province’s chief mine inspector as saying the spills contents are relatively inert and benign and are not expected to hurt the water quality.
The dam was 100 metres long and 12 metres high. It had separated an emergency spill lagoon filled with mercury-laden waste-water and sentiment from the 5,500 hectare lake. But at some point late last year an ill-fated reclamation activity directed by the company resulted in its complete collapse. What is more, the dyke itself was constructed with mercury-contaminated earthen material. All of that is in the lake now, verified Chief Alexis.
The Tlazten spokesman went on to explain how past contamination of the lake has culminated in serious health problems for Tlazten members, who in the past relied on it for fresh fish. The Chief also told how they once used the lakes fish reserves for economic purposes, citing historic trade practices with the former Hudsons Bay Company trading company. All of that is lost now, lamented Chief Alexis.
"We’ve lost the traditional use of the land [there]. The economic value of the lake has been diminished because of the contamination. We can't utilize our reserve lands [at the lake] because of the contaminants our traditional sites have been basically abandoned. [This] was not our choosing. It was a choice [made for us] by governments and industry."
Chief Alexis said his first nation needs to be properly consulted and involved if future reclamation and related processes are ever going to work because all that his people are doing now is reacting to issues as a result of last-minute consultations initiated by the government or the company.
Supporting Chief Alexis in his presentation to the gathered media were six other chiefs from the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. All of them offered their full support to Chief Alexis and his nations intention of implementing a moratorium. Many of them expressed their mutual concern and dismay at what happen at Pinchi Lake, including issues each have with other mining projects and companies in their respective territories.
Also attending the conference and providing support was Edward John, elected task group member of the First Nations Summit, a political organization representing approximately 140 first nations in B.C. He is also grand hereditary chief of the Tlazten Nation.
Chief Alexis was also quick to point out that the ramification of the dam's failure and the general contamination of the lake itself extends beyond its boundaries and its resident fish. He explained that Pinchi Lake flows into Stuart Lake and that the water channel between the two is spawning habitat for chinook, sockeye, and kokanee salmon. He estimated that about 20,000 fish return there annually. This is in addition to the fresh-water fish populations of rainbow trout, burbot, whitefish, and lake trout.
Grand Chief John revealed that a preliminary attempt to involve officials from the provincial and federal governments with statutory authority for the environment and for fish and fish habitat has not yet resulted in substantive discussions involving Tlazten.
For more comments on this issue, contact Chief Thomas Alexis at 250-648-3212.
Chiefs in attendance at Tlazten Nations news conference:
- Tlazten Nation Chief Thomas Alexis
- Takla Lake First Nation Chief Janet West
- Saikuz First Nation Chief Colleen Erickson
- Nakazdli First Nation Chief Leonard Thomas
- Nadleh Whuten First Nation Chief Larry Nooski
- Stellaten First Nation Chief Patrick Michell
- Burns Lake First Nation Chief Robert Charlie
- First Nations Summit - Edward John, elected Task Group Member, Hereditary Grand Chief of the Tlazten Nation