Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indian Bands vow to keep up pressure on government and industry
Williams Lake. BC. July 31, 2015: The massive disruption to communities and the environment caused one year ago by the Mount Polley Tailings Pond disaster is far from over, the front line First Nations warned today.
Soda Creek (Xat’sull) Chief Donna Dixon and Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said the premature reopening of the mine last month with important studies still outstanding leave the communities with uncertainty that the problems have been fixed, or that lessons have really been really learned – for this region and for all areas where tailings pond collapses are a threat.
“This last year has hugely affected our community, and businesses, workers, leadership – and it has only just begun,” said Chief Dixon. “We can understand that mine employees want to get back to work, but it needs to be done right if those jobs are to be secure and we are to avoid new problems. And those of us, First Nations and non-aboriginal, who depend on the land and water, have a right to a safe, secure future.
“The Aug. 4, 2014, disaster has taken up the majority of our time and taken away from other important aspects of our community. We need to ensure that this continues to be a lesson to everyone, especially government and industry, that things must change! We cannot continue to put money before environmental concerns and expect to be successful in the end,” said Chief Dixon.
Chief Louie said: “The events of Aug. 4 last year and the subsequent focus on mining practices and regulations in BC have made it clear the mining industry requires greater scrutiny. Families had their livelihoods destroyed. The lands and waters have been impacted forever. Quesnel and Polley Lakes will never be the same. The salmon fishery has suffered a major impact.
Chiefs Dixon and Louie said the BC government has take some positive steps, including First Nations representation on the code review panel, and signing a Letter of Understanding with their two First Nations that created a framework for pursuing key reforms covering such matters as management of tailings facilities, the antiquated free entry exploration system, and the environmental assessment processes. But, they said, the proof of the Government’s commitment will be in its actions.
“We have worked very hard over the last year to have BC hold the company to its obligations to clean up the impacted areas and thought we were making some progress, but the premature re-opening of the mine before all the facts are in is a serious concern to us.” said Chief Louie.
Chief Louie pointed out there has only been an interim opening of the Mount Polley mine and said no permanent re-opening will be possible without First Nation consent – and that can only be earned if the outstanding issues are genuinely addressed to their satisfaction. “The government must continue to work with us and the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC) to change the mining legislation,” said Chief Louie.
Chief Dixon said all British Columbians have a vested interest in reform, noting the Mount Polley Panel Report warned the province on average risks two similar disasters per decade unless changes are made, and that a study by the FNEMC shows over 200 communities and 50-80% of BC’s salmon stocks are in the potential fallout shadow of 35 tailings ponds at 26 mines on 48 key Northern BC key watersheds.
“We will hold BC to its promise to implement all the recommendations of the Mount Polley Panel review as a province-wide priority,’ said Chief Dixon.
“We must ensure this type of disaster never happens again, and to prevent the pollution of our water and waterways. This will also require reviewing online staking and placer mining,” said Chief Louie.
The Chiefs were supported in their comments by provincial leadership. The BC First Nation Summit’s Grand Chief Ed John said: "The anniversary of the breach of the tailings facility at Mount Polley is a grim reminder of the risks in the mining industry of what can go wrong even where there are standards and government oversight. We must learn from this tragedy which impacted communities, waterways, animals and fish and not allow it to happen again.”
Chief Donna Dixon: Phone: 250-989-2355. firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Ann Louie: Phone: (250) 296-3507. Ann.Louie@williamslakeband.ca