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Trudeau hosts the world on biodiversity, but dismisses first nations at home

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News from the CSKT, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Ktunaxa Nation Council

CANADA — As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosts the international community in Montreal this week for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, the six Indigenous governments from the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation are calling him out on his own country’s failure to honour the Ktunaxa Nation’s sovereignty and protect ecosystems and species from mine pollution. 

In a joint letter, the six Ktunaxa Nation governments call for the leaders of Canada and the U.S. to act now to address the legacy and ongoing impacts of open-pit coal mining in the Elk Valley of southeast British Columbia. Over a century of mountain top removal mining has laid waste to the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation, contaminating the transboundary Kootenay(i) River and fish that depend on it, and delivering mine pollution hundreds of kilometres downstream, into Montana, Idaho and into the Columbia River watershed, as it flows back into Canada. 

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Nation’s unanswered request that Canada join with them and the United States on a reference to the International Joint Commission to address legacy and ongoing contamination from large-scale coal mining in the Transboundary Kootenay(i) Watershed. “We write to remind you of your commitments to Indigenous governments and ask that you adhere to the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909,” the six Nation governments urge in the letter, adding, “Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and the United States commitment to Nation-to-Nation engagement and Environmental Justice for Indigenous Peoples are being flagrantly disregarded.” 

Nasuʔkins (Chiefs) and Council Members from the six Ktunaxa governments of Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it First Nation [Tobacco Plains]; ʔakisq̓nuk̓ First Nation [Windermere]; Yaqan Nuʔkiy [Lower Kootenay Band]; ʔaq̓am [Cranbrook]; Kupawiȼq̓nuk [Ksanka Band, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes]; and ʔaq̓anqmi [Kootenai Tribe of Idaho] have joined together across their traditional territory, which spans the boundary between the United States and Canada, to demand action on the environmental and cultural devastation arising from the Elk Valley of southeast British Columbia. 

Canada’s role as host to the United Nations Biodiversity Conference this week underscores the country’s hypocrisy in refusing to honour the Ktunaxa Nation’s request to join them in a reference to the International Joint Commission to address the mining impacts in the Kootenay(i) River. “How is it that Prime Minister Trudeau and Canada can commit to halting biodiversity loss through real collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, and yet completely disregard our plea to act in solidarity for a decade? Is this what honoring Indigenous governments looks like in Canada?” asks Chairman Tom McDonald from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, sister government to the Ktunaxa in Canada. 

Insult was added to injury when recent Freedom of Information requests revealed collusion across the mining industry, the province of British Columbia and Trudeau’s government; all aimed at defeating the Ktunaxa Nation request for an International Joint Commission reference, excluding them from decision-making, and preventing an objective and transparent process to address this legacy mining issue. 

“We stand united in the Ktunaxa principle of the reciprocal stewardship of ʔa·kxam̓is q̓api qapsin (All Living Things),” said Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese. “This means a one-river approach that isn’t hindered by a willful lack of engagement or coal mining profits and that recognizes the fundamental need for clean water, healthy fish, and the protection of biodiversity. There are solutions to be found—the IJC reference is the next step to finding them.”

Vice Chairman Gary Aitken Jr., leadership of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, shared the following remarks, “The Kootenai River is the lifeblood of our people, and of the Kootenai River white sturgeon and burbot. Pollution from these Canadian mines threatens to permanently destroy all of this. How can Trudeau promise to stand by Indigenous governments and address global deterioration of biodiversity and ignore this request at home to honor UNDRIP and the Boundary Waters Treaty?”

As the international community gathers in Montreal this week for the United Nations COP15 Biodiversity Conference, we’re calling on Canada to truly commit to the meeting’s goal of protecting nature and respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and join the United States and the six governments of the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation in a joint reference to the International Joint Commission.

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