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Posted: November 7, 2022

Wildsight backs KNC on watershed pollution concerns

Wildsight recently declared it strongly supports the Ktunaxa Nation’s decades long call to have the International Joint Commission (ICJ) address the deterioration of water quality in the Elk-Kootenay River System.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council Society (KNC) recently received documents under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) which show the Province of B.C. may have pressured Canada to drop its support for a joint US-Canada study into pollution in the Kootenay watershed. The documents are posted on the provincial website.

Water flows from Elkview Operations at Sparwood. e-KNOW file photo

In April of 2022, Global Affairs Canada notified KNC that it would no longer support a ‘reference’ to IJC to study and seek solutions to the transboundary selenium contamination due to mining activities in the Elk Valley in British Columbia.

The IJC, with independent representatives from Canada and the United States, makes recommendations based upon consideration of science and indigenous knowledge.

The KNC noted in a media release Oct. 27 the released documents reveal that officials from the highest levels of the federal and provincial governments engaged in discussions about the reference, which excluded Ktunaxa and ignored Ktunaxa title, rights and governance authority.

In the context of continued pollution, the abandonment of the IJC reference for the Kootenay watershed by Canada came as a shock to the Ktunaxa First Nations and sister tribes in the U.S., the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (KTOI), KNC stated.

Wildsight said it is concerned with both the Province of British Columbia and the federal governments’ failure to consult with the Ktunaxa Nation, ignoring their title and rights, and their failure to receive their free, prior, and informed consent. British Columbia’s failure to sufficiently regulate its mines has resulted in a worsening selenium contamination crisis that the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan has failed to stop.

“British Columbia and the federal governments’ actions have shown an outright disrespect for the Ktunaxa principle of reciprocal stewardship and a one-river approach. A transboundary, Indigenous-led watershed board for the Elk-Kootenay River System under the IJC is likely the only effective, impartial, long-term and science-based solution to this complex problem,” said Robyn Duncan, Wildsight’s Executive Director.

Ten years ago, the joint councils of the KNC, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (KTOI) first requested federal action through a reference to the IJC regarding concerns for the Kootenay watershed and ʔa·kxam̓is q̓api qapsin (All Living Things) within it, KNC noted in its media release.

“This spring selenium levels at the international boundary peaked at 2.4 micrograms per litre, which is three times Montana’s site-specific selenium standard of 0.8 micrograms per litre. Exceeding that magnitude poses risk to aquatic life. In light of these risks, there is a long-standing need for Federal involvement in the non-partisan search for solutions.

“The Ktunaxa First Nations and the KNC continue to support the requests made by Montana Department of Environmental Quality, CSKT and KTOI, and the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Geological Survey to have an IJC reference that evaluates and makes independent, scientifically based recommendations on the transboundary selenium contamination in this watershed.”

KNC continued that while there has been “unprecedented support from the IJC commissioners and from US Department of State, the Canadian government remains non-committal on meeting its obligations and commitments to ensure that the waters of the Kootenay watershed are healthy for the generations to come.

“The Ktunaxa First Nations stand united with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in the Ktunaxa principle of reciprocal stewardship of ʔa·kxam̓is q̓api qapsin and a one-river approach, irrespective of any imposed international boundary.”

The Elk-Kootenay River System is important to First Nations and communities on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border, Wildsight pointed out.

“We call upon Global Affairs Canada to act on their obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty, and on Canada’s obligation to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Duncan.

Read the May 13, 2022 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden from the International Joint Commission.

Lead image: The Elk River flows into the Kootenay River. e-KNOW file photo


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