Global Affairs Canada ignores request

·3 min read

During a time where Canada has committed to Truth and Reconciliation, Global Affairs Canada continues to ignore the issue of pollution in the transboundary river which is a violation of Article IV of the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty. The governments of Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡiʾit, ʔakisq̓ nuk, Yaqan Nuʔkiy and ʔaq̓ am as well as the Ktunaxa Nation Council (KNC) Chair are feeling disheartened, let down and livid to say the least.

“Global Affairs Canada has displayed a blatant disregard for Canada’s legal duty to our First Nation as well as the other First Nations,”says Heidi Gravelle Chief for Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡiʾit (Tobacco Plains Indian Band) located in the Elk Valley. “There has been disrespect against our four First Nation decision making and governance authority. There is a long history of pollution inflicted to the transboundary Kootenay Watershed by mining operations which are authorized by the province of BC which has occurred with minimal federal regulation, and that’s what needs to be addressed.”

Global Affairs Canada has failed to respond to the request to refer the issue of transboundary watershed pollution of the Kootenay River to the International Joint Commission (IJC). A letter was sent to Melanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Steven Guilbeaut, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeaut on May 6. In their letter the Ktunaxa governments outlined how Global Affairs Canada has failed to meaningfully engage and implement United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) through the development of a referral to the IJC on the issue of transboundary pollution on the Kootenay River.

The Kootenay River watershed has been impacted by mining operations for decades. The Treaty was established to deal directly with managing transboundary waters between the United States and Canada. Article IV, disputes regarding pollution can be referred to the IJC. As stated in the letter, the expertise and institutional independence of the IJC make it well suited to helping Canada, the US, BC, and the transboundary Ktunaxa better understand solutions for managing and reducing pollution throughout the watershed.

“For the health of our land and our water, and our people. Solutions need to be brought forward and they need to be independent of the political and economic drivers that have created this situation,” says Gravelle. “We haven’t received a response from Global Affairs Canada. We’ve been requesting this involvement for over a decade. It’s long overdue.”

The silver lining to this darkened cloud is that the letter written on May 6 to address these ongoing unresolved concerns inspired the IJC commissioners to write letters to Prime Minister Trudeau and President Joe Biden supporting this request that can no longer be ignored. It is not just the Kootenay River, but the Columbia River too and all waterways that need healing from pollution and climate change.

“All Indigenous people have a duty to steward and protect our land, and of course with that comes water,” says Gravelle. “The entire ecosystem, our animals, our plants and we’ve been crying out for help from the government for over a decade and to be dismissed is really disheartening at this point in time, but we will not be discouraged. We’re adamant about doing the right thing, and that’s what it comes down to is doing the right thing.”

The governments of the Ktunaxa Nation call upon Canada to do the right thing. To no longer ignore these pressing issues while helping to find solutions immediately and to recommit to a consent-based engagement with the Ktunaxa Nation on a joint IJC reference.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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