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Ktunaxa press feds on cross-border pollution in Kootenay watershed

Ktunaxa governments met with U.S. officials, continue to push feds for International Joint Commission
On June 7, 2022, the six governments of the Ktunaxa Nation met with United States government representatives to discuss watershed pollution from mining in Canada that ‘crosses the line’ into the United States.Photo courtesy Ktunaxa Nation Council.

The six governments of the Ktunaxa Nation continue to press the federal government on pollution in the Kootenay watershed that crosses the international border between Canada and the United States.

Earlier this month, leadership with the six Ktuanxa governments recently met with representatives fro the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey on the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s reservation lands in Bonner’s Ferry.

“We met with our sister Tribes and the U.S. Government to discuss the next steps in addressing the pollution issue in the Kootenay watershed,” said Nasuʔkin Heidi Gravelle, of Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it First Nation. “The governments of the Ktunaxa Nations formally asked the Government of Canada to participate in a joint reference to the International Joint Commission, which would help ensure the matter is addressed objectively.”

That meeting, held on June 7th, included Nasuʔkins (Chiefs) and council members assembled from the six Ktunaxa governments of Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it First Nation [Tobacco Plains]; ʔakisq̓nuk First Nation [Windermere]; Yaqan Nuʔkiy [Lower Kootenay Band]; ʔaq̓am [Cranbrook]; Kupawiȼq̓nuk [Ksanka Band, Confederated Salish and Kootenay Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation]; and ʔaq̓anqmi [Kootenai Tribe of Idaho].

The Ktunaxa Nation has been calling for the federal government to participate in the IJC process since December 2021, and say Global Affairs Canada indicated in April is no longer considering an IJC reference.

For it’s part, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada recently said that Canada has not rejected the possibility of a reference to the IJC at this time, and that discussions between Canada and the U.S. on transboundary mining issues in the Koootenay/Kootenai River remain ongoing, according to a statement sent to Black Press Media last month.

The IJC has the expertise and independence to review, assess, and provide recommendations on pollution affecting the Kootenay watershed, according to the Ktuanxa.

“The missing piece here is Canada’s seeming refusal to participate in a joint reference submission to get the ball rolling on viable, science-based, solutions,” said Nasuʔkin Gravelle.

“It’s a disappointment, and a sad day for reconciliation, when progress on dealing with the pollution of our waterways is blocked by a Federal government claiming to be ‘committed to reconciliation’.”

Following the June 7th meeting with Ktunaxa and U.S. dignitaries, the U.S. State Department issued a statement affirming the Biden Administration’s “commitment to strengthening Nation-to-Nation relationships by listening to Tribal priorities and respecting Tribal sovereignty.”

The statement also supported utilizing the IJC— an entity created under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty that prevents and resolves disputes on transnational waterways between the United States and Canada.

“A joint reference would respond to the need for impartial recommendations and transparent communication, build trust, and forge a common understanding of this issue among local, Indigenous, state, provincial, and federal governments as well as stakeholders and the public in both countries,” reads the statement.

The Ktunaxa also pointedly recognized the “collaboration and respect” that the U.S. governement showed to all Indigenous governments.

Nasuʔkin Don Sam of ʔakisq̓nuk First Nation urged the Government of Canada to strive towards the same principles of transparent and respectful dialogue with Ktunaxa north of the 49th parallel.

“There is both a science and a political problem here,” Nasuʔkin Sam said. “We are learning how those components are working together, and I look forward to us overcoming these challenges.”

One of the key issues in the Kootenay River watershed is pollution from nearby mining activities and the compounding impacts to downstream ecosystems and Indigenous cultural values.

“These waterways are known as the veins of the earth that connect our people,” said Nasuʔkin Jason Louie, of Yaqan Nuʔkiy, “We travel by these waterways, from Yaqan Nuʔkiy down to this community [ʔaq̓anqmi]. All our communities are connected by the waterways. In human anatomy, if the veins are clogged then we are sick. You can, and you will, die. We are witnessing the death of these veins, these waterways. If these veins were clean, we would be in a different place in our communities.”

“We consume the fish. At one time, we used to drink the water. We have never put waste into water, because water is life. The decisions that we make must be based in science, directed by science.”

Teck currently has four coal mining operations in the Elk Valley.

Last year, the company was fined $60 million for violations under the Fisheries Act, such as waste rock leachate into the Fording River.

Elevated levels of selenium, a naturally occurring mineral but toxic in high concentrations, can be harmful to fish and wildlife.

Teck has developed the Elk Valley Water Quality plan and says it is committed to protecting water quality affected by waste rock byproducts from coal mining.

It has three water treatment facilities operating, which are removing “about 95 per cent” of selenium from treated water, according to a recent statement from a company spokesperson.

Teck has invested $1.2 billion on water quality, plans to spend a further $750 million, and expects to have four times the water treatment capacity than it did in 2020.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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