An international coalition of over 200 Indigenous groups, businesses and environmentalists have announced opposition to a Canadian mining plan that could have far-reaching impacts in the US.
Imperial Metals has applied to the British Columbia government for a five-year exploratory permit to drill for gold around the source waters of the Skagit River, near the US border.
The opponents on both sides of the border argue that if gold exploration and, eventually, mining are permitted in the Skagit headwaters, which flow into Puget Sound in Washington state, pollution could harm local communities and the North Cascades national park.
“Even exploratory drilling has been shown to release copper,” according to a recent letter to the British Columbia premier by by 109 American elected officials, conservationists and others.
“Copper can be lethal to fish and aquatic invertebrates at relatively small concentrations. Recent studies have found that copper has substantial sublethal impacts to fish at levels that were previously considered safe.”
Scott Schuyler, the natural and cultural resources policy representative for the Upper Skagit tribe, said his community was “concerned and alarmed” about the threat of a mine undoing work to protect the river and recover dwindling salmon stocks. This could affect southern resident orcas, some of which are starving and which depend on chinook salmon from the Skagit.
Schuyler’s community has occupied the Skagit Valley for 10,000 years, he said. In 1855, his ancestor signed the Treaty of Point Elliot with the US, in which lands were ceded in exchange for guaranteed fishing rights and other entitlements.
“The biggest thing is who burdens the risk,” he said. “There’s been very little conversation, if any, with those of us downstream about how these activities affect us.”
A formal resolution was also passed by the Swinomish Indian tribal community in October 2020 that calls Imperial Metals’ proposal “destructive” and risky to salmon recovery.
That resolution points out Imperial Metals’ track record – the company was behind one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Canadian history, when the tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine collapsed in 2014, spilling millions of cubic metres of mine tailings and waste into central British Columbian streams and lakes.
In a statement, the company said that the area it wants to explore for gold, near the town of Hope, had a history of industrial activity, dating back to 1939. That was when the Canadian government granted mineral claims, although the land is technically public.
It said that the provincial government reaffirmed the right to mine there in 1995, in exchange for Imperial Metals giving up land nearby that became part of two provincial parks.
“At the time all parties agreed it was a fair compromise, including some of the very people…
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