The chief and council of the Okanagan Indian Band are sharing their deep concerns, anger and fear about the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach, and how it affects us right here at home.
“This is very sad news,” said Chief Byron Louis, “Our hearts go out to the affected communities.”
A reported 10-billion litres of water leaked causing not only physical damage to the surrounding areas but released toxic substances that affect the entire ecosystem.
“I am hoping to give people a wake up call that these types of activities can happen, even in the Okanagan,” says Louis. “We had Brenda Mines and it used to have tailing ponds on the head of Trepanier Creek. These types of things can happen, even here.”
The massive Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach leaked water directly into the Fraser River, a large source of food for several First Nation groups.
“It not only affects us but it affects the whole ecosystem. The Fraser River is the largest fishery in the Pacific Northwest,” says Louis. “We are dependent on those fish. To give it an analogy if you think of a river as a tree, it's pretty dang hard to poison just a branch without poisoning the whole tree because it is all into one.”
While there is not direct mining activity in our area, Louis says there is mining activity in the Similkameen that could affect our waterways. As well as exploration in the North Okanagan that could have dire effects.
Louis points out that we only have around 36 streams in the Okanagan from large ones like Mission Creek to small ones the size of irrigation ditches. He says we do not have enough water as it is and any type of contamination could be very catastrophic.
It has come out now that provincial officials had warned Imperial Metals about the water levels being too high in May and Louis is frustrated about the lack of concern or action given to the warnings.
“Mercury, lead and arsenic are just three of the substances found within the pond,” adds Louis “The environmental impact on the river systems and surrounding land will not be truly felt for some time.”
The Okanagan Indian Band is now calling on the federal and provincial governments to create, apply and enforce laws that will protect the vital waterways which affect the lives of not only Aboriginal peoples but the community as a whole. Louis feels the current rules allow these organizations to basically self monitor and self regulate which is asking for these sorts of thins to happen.
“It is like putting a coyote in charge of a chicken coop.”
Louis is also holding the government responsible and demanding that the proper resources are made available to assess and mitigate the damage caused by the Mount Polley Mine incident.
“This is not just about Aboriginal interests,” says Louis, “It is in the best interests of all British Columbians and Canadians to live in a society where we can go fishing or hunting and not have to worry about arsenic and mercury in our food or drinking water.”
“This is very serious, it might have happened up there but this could happen in our backyard. We do not have the water or room in the Okanagan to mitigate this kind of disaster, so we have to be careful,” adds Louis.