Mining harms wild salmon

The Wild Salmon Delegation came to Norway to campaign against Cermaq’s open-net pen feedlots in Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. But as the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations saying goes, hišukiš c̓aawaak—everything is connected.

Yesterday I found myself sitting inside an indigenous Sami lavvu (a teepee-like traditional dwelling) with Ahousaht First Nations citizen John Rampanen. Imagine our surprise to learn that the reindeer herder with us

had heard about Imperial Metals’ 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster back in British Columbia! It was one of the biggest mining disasters in Canadian history, spilling many millions of cubic metres of toxic water and tailings into Quesnel Lake, home to one quarter of the Fraser River sockeye salmon.

This week Clayoquot Action will be attending a major wild salmon conference here in Alta, Norway, the salmon sports fishing capital of the world. Most of the discussion will be around salmon farming, and the harm it causes wild salmon: diseases, sea lice, and escapes. But there will be one session on the proposed ocean dumping of mine tailings in a nearby fjord called Repparfjorden.

Repparfjorden copper mine proposal
Repparfjorden is close to major wild salmon rivers. In 2015, municipal and national authorities approved plans to dump up to two million tons of toxic tailings from a planned copper mine into the fjord—annually, for fifteen years.

Hundreds of people are willing to engage in civil disobedience to protest this atrocity. This will sound familiar to readers from BC—Imperial Metals has proposed an open-pit copper mine on Catface Mountain in Ahousaht First Nations territory. Although Imperial has not been forthcoming with precise plans for Catface, they would most likely build an earthen dam to store tailings—just like the one that burst at Mount Polley…

Storage of mine tailings is becoming a problem globally, because most of the best ore bodies on the planet have already been mined out. New mines typically target much lower grades, which means more leftover waste rock—toxic tailings.

Failures of tailings dams are on the increase around the world, because the containment dams are being built much higher to contain the larger quantities of tailings. Since Mount Polley we have seen massive failures in places such as the Samarco Iron Mine in Brazil, and the Gold King Mine in Colorado.

Enter the Wilderness Committee
One of the hardest parts of Clayoquot Action’s trip to Mount Polley in 2014, just weeks after the catastrophe, was witnessing the human impact. Local First Nations and residents were devastated, unable to drink the water, eat the salmon, and unsure of the future of the home they love so much. I made a promise to new friends there that I would not forget, and would do my best to ensure that some of BC’s larger environmental groups would do something about Mount Polley.

Last spring Bonny & I finally got to sit down with Joe Foy, National Campaigns director for the Wilderness Committee in Vancouver. We told him of our experience at Mount Polley, and asked him what he could do to help. One of the things I truly appreciate about the Wilderness Committee is that they understand how to work with local communities. By the end of the hour, they had decided to begin an educational campaign on the risks posed to British Columbia by unsafe mining practices.

The resulting publication was released last week and can be viewed here. They also produced a short video which looks at the risks associated with mining in the Fraser River, one of the greatest wild salmon watersheds in the world—check it out! Please take a moment to send a letter to BC’s Premier asking her to clean up BC’s mining industry.

Tore Bongo and the Alta Controversy
Yesterday was Sami National Day in Scandinavia. At the Alta celebration we met Tore Bongo, one of the leaders of the Alta Controversy—a major nonviolent campaign against a hydro dam in the 70s and 80s. He is prepared to be arrested again, along with many youth, if the Repparfjorden mine plans go ahead.

We are meeting many Sami indigenous people who work to protect their lands and waters, and to protect their right to practice their traditional cultures—just like back home. We look forward to working together across the oceans to protect Mother Earth!

Dan Lewis is in Norway with Clayoquot Action’s Wild Salmon Delegation.

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