Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine

A tale of two mines

An open-pit copper mine in the heart of Clayoquot Sound? A historic gold mine re-opened using modern technology to scour out minerals the old-timers couldn’t get at? Is this the best we can hope for, almost 25 years after the Clayoquot Summer peaceful protests put the region on the map of global ecological hotspots?

Imperial Metals sparked controversy this month when interviewed by CBC for a story on mining. When asked about Imperial’s Clayoquot Sound claims, Vice President Steve Robertson said “those mining projects are very valuable to the company, we feel they’re high priority projects”. Robertson was formerly the manager of Imperial’s Mount Polley Mine, until their tailings dam failed catastrophically in 2014, spilling 25 million cubic metres of toxic tailings and slurry into pristine Quesnel Lake—one of the biggest mining disasters in the world.

Imperial Metals is a Vancouver-based mining company. They acquired mineral tenures in Clayoquot Sound in 2009 and are considering opening two mines in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Imperial: Clayoquot projects ‘high priority’
First, the Catface Mountain copper mine. Catface is located at the geographic centre of Clayoquot Sound in Ahousaht First Nations territory. Ahousaht are a sovereign Nuu-chah-nulth nation whose territory encompasses much of Clayoquot Sound. The Ahousaht name for Catface Mountain is čitaapii (Chitaapi).

Just this winter Ahousaht announced their land use vision for their traditional territories. It clearly did not include an open pit copper mine right across the channel from their village on Flores Island. A mine operating only 3 kilometres away with audible blasting and bright lights 24/7 has the potential to drastically alter life in the village, with serious and long-term social, health and environmental impacts. Imperial’s proclamation flies in the face of the expressed veto of the Ahousaht people.

Imperial’s second proposal is to re-open the abandoned Fandora gold mine in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations territory—in Tla-o-qui-aht’s Tranquil Tribal Park. In 2013, Vancouver-based Selkirk Metals (owned by Imperial Metals Corporation) was granted an exploration permit despite a veto from Tla-o-qui-aht. They are not satisfied with the level of consultation by the company or the BC government.

Urgent need to modernize mining legislation
Unfortunately, a First Nations veto on a mining project does not mean the BC government and mining companies will give up. Just look at the case of Tsilhqot’in Nation’s attempts to protect Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) in their territories.

The federal government has twice rejected Taseko’s Prosperity Mine proposal, yet the company is applying for exploration permits to keep the project alive, suing the federal government and seeking unspecified compensation for their decisions, and appealing its court loss regarding defamation charges made against the Wilderness Committee.

And remember, defeating a mine proposal costs communities a million dollars each time.

British Columbia’s Mineral Tenure Act is still based on a ‘free entry’ system which has been abandoned in many other jurisdictions, including Alberta. For over 150 years mining activity has been given priority over virtually all other land uses and generated conflict over mining activity throughout BC. In 2013, the District of Tofino put forward a resolution at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) annual conference calling on the provincial government to work with First Nations, local governments, industry and citizens to modernize BC’s mining laws. The resolution was passed with overwhelming support.

Mining ban needed for Clayoquot Sound
The quest for continued growth on a finite planet is forcing the global commodity market to look for scarce resources in places that were considered off-limits 20-30 years ago. Most of the good ore bodies on the planet have been mined out—companies are now looking to marginal deposits like Catface and Fandora. If not Imperial, if not now; some day, some company will want to try to open these mines in Clayoquot Sound.

Currently, only the BC government has the power to hand out mining permits. Therefore only the BC government has the power to ban mining legally—for now. Clayoquot Action is calling on the province to support the land-use visions of the local First Nations whose rights and title to these lands have never been extinguished. From Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht to the District of Tofino and the Chamber of Commerce—there is a broad consensus that Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is not the right place for mining activities.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

You can watch CBC’s full coverage here. The Clayoquot mining story starts at 12:32.

Please sign SumOfUs’ petition to Imperial Metals. Help us reach 50,000 signatures!

 

Sydney Valley, Clayoquot Sound

I am the river and the river is me

A Māori tribe made history recently when a New Zealand river was granted legal rights. The Whanganui River has been granted personhood and rights, thus settling the longest running court case in New Zealand’s history.

The Whanganui iwi [tribe] of the Māori fought for 140 years to protect their river. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.” Continue reading

Ahousaht First Nations vision

Ahousahts’ vision

Hereditary chiefs typically designate a speaker to speak for them in public. This is because when they say something, it can’t be taken back. So I was curious when I heard Chief Maquinna from Ahousaht was going to speak at a Raincoast Education Society event in Tofino about old growth forests—how was this going to work?

Lewis George is the hereditary chief of Ahousaht, and bears the traditional title m̓ukʷina (Maquinna), which he received from his late father Earl Maquinna George. The first thing he did last week was to explain why he was speaking. Hereditary chiefs can only speak for themselves when they have good news. And Ahousaht has good news!

The Ahousaht confederacy recently announced their marine- and land-use vision for their traditional territories (ḥaḥuułʔi). The community consensus is to protect their lands and waters, including the globally rare ancient rainforests—the massive cedars and spruces—of which they are the custodians. Continue reading

Clayoquot Science Panel

(Originally published in November/December 2016 issue of Watershed Sentinel)

As I struggled to hoist myself up onto the monumental stump of an ancient red cedar, I wondered how it had come to this. Why, in 2010, were trees like this being cut down in Clayoquot Sound? A place where valley after valley of ancient forests never ravaged by chainsaws undulates downwards from the snowy peaks, to surf rolling in on mile-long sandy beaches. Continue reading

Clayoquot Action's Dan Lewis, protest against Kinder Morgan, Burnaby Mountain, BC. Marnie Recker Photography

Ready for Clayoquot 2.0

By approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either failed to understand who voted for him and why, or he would appear to be a fraud.

During the election he presented himself as an alternative to Stephen Harper—a leader who had weakened environmental regulations, vilified environmentalists as ‘enemies of the state’ and pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Treaty. Justin spoke of the need to restore environmental protections, for true reconciliation with First Nations, to address the climate crisis for the sake of young people, and a return to science-based decision-making.

How could he betray all this? Why would he go to the Paris climate talks and boast “Canada is back”, then accept Harper’s carbon targets as his own? Why would he agree to a pipeline which was approved by a flawed NEB process which he had promised to fix? Why would he spend his summer vacation in Tofino, then put the beautiful west coast of BC at risk of a major oil spill? Continue reading

No pipelines, no tankers, no problems!

The Carnival Marching Band was belting out tunes last Saturday as we began marching from City Hall. Five thousand people flooded the streets of Vancouver in advance of Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion plans. As we crossed the Cambie Street Bridge a massive chant rose up: “Hey hey, Trudeau, Kinder Morgan’s got to go!” It was exhilarating to be together with so many people who are determined to ensure that this pipeline is never built.

Coastal communities on the frontline
A Clayoquot Action contingent made our way down from Tofino to join this massive pipeline protest—because coastal communities like Tofino, Esowista, Ahousaht, and Hot Springs Cove are on the front lines. Long Beach is less than 50 kilometres from the proposed tanker route. This places Clayoquot Sound outside of K-M’s designated Enhanced Area of Response, which means if a spill were to occur, no assistance would be coming for the first 72 hours. Continue reading

MiningWatch heads into the Williams Lake court

Legal action over Mount Polley disaster

On October 18th, Clayoquot Action joined MiningWatch Canada in Williams Lake to support their launch of private prosecution against Imperial Metals and the BC government for the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster.

This legal action is supported by more than a dozen non-profit organizations including Wilderness Committee, Amnesty International, First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining (FNWARM), Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, and Sierra Club.

Largest mining disaster in Canadian history
The 25 million cubic metre spill near Likely was the largest in Canadian history. The sheer volume and velocity of the spill instantly killed fish, destroyed a 9 km section of Hazeltine Creek, filled both Polley and Quesnel Lakes with tons of toxic slurry mine waste, triggered drinking water bans, and significantly affected downstream livelihoods. Continue reading

Big summer for wild salmon!

It was a big summer for wild salmon. Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society donated their vessel, the R/V Martin Sheen, to BC biologist Alexandra Morton. Operation Virus Hunter was launched! The goal was to track farm salmon viruses and audit salmon farms along the Fraser wild salmon migration route.

Things ramped up in August when the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw chiefs (pictured above at a Vancouver rally) issued an eviction notice to all salmon farms in their territory, including Cermaq, the same Norwegian company operating in Clayoquot Sound. The Nation has been opposing salmon farms in their territory for decades. This summer Band Councillor Melissa Willie instructed by Chief Willie Moon to climb aboard a salmon farm to request a sample of the farm fish for testing. Their request was denied. Continue reading

Mining threat looms over Kamloops

(Editor: Imperial Metals, of Mount Polley infamy, is considering two mines in Clayoquot Sound. If they ever actually apply for a mine development permit, the clock begins ticking—local communities would have 6 months to participate in an Environmental Assessment process, which in BC has never refused a mine permit. Clayoquot Action invited Kamloops resident Dr. Ross Friedman to describe her experience with the EA process.)

KGHM Ajax Mining Inc. (a Polish-owned corporation) wants to dig a huge, noisy, dusty open-pit copper and gold mine near Kamloops, BC, a city of 90,000 people. The mine would be within 1.4 kilometres of the nearest residences, and within 2 kilometres from the nearest elementary school. Continue reading

Tore Bongo presents Alexandra Morton petition to King of Norway

Alta reflections

The indigenous people of northern Europe are called Sami. They are known for herding reindeer on the tundra. What we learned while in Norway is that the coastal Sami culture centres on wild salmon, much like coastal Natives in what is now called British Columbia. These two species, with their predictable migration patterns, provided the protein on which a rich culture was founded—the Sami.

The Alta River in northern Norway is famous. The stretches downstream of Northern Europe’s biggest canyon teem with big salmon, and have been a mecca of sports fishing for many years. The reindeer herds also come to the banks of the headwaters to calve in the rich pastures.

A major dam on the Alta River?
Back in 1970, the Norwegian government announced plans to build a major hydroelectric dam on the Alta River. Questions about the reindeer, the wild salmon, or interference with Sami rights were not even considered. What became known as the Alta Controversy began as a conflict between the Sami and the Norwegian government. The Sami village of Masi was to be flooded, and people rightly feared extensive disruption of the environment. Eventually the resistance morphed into a People’s Movement which became a nationwide flashpoint for a growing awareness of the need to protect the environment and uphold indigenous rights. Continue reading