Defending Watersheds in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia from Impacts of Mining

These watersheds are rich with wildlife, and their salmon harvests sustain local fishing enterprises and Alaska Native and First Nations communities. The threats of heavy metals pollution and catastrophic dam failures from large-scale mining will hang over the watersheds for centuries.

Case Overview

The Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers flow across the Canada-United States border, from headwaters in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia through Southeast Alaska to the sea. These watersheds are some of the largest and most productive salmon habitats remaining in the world.

Alaska Native and First Nations peoples have harvested salmon and caribou from these watersheds for generations, and continue to rely on such harvests today. Commercial fishermen from Southeast Alaska also rely on these harvests, harvesting tens of millions of dollars worth of salmon from these three rivers annually. The watersheds collectively support hundreds of Alaskan workers and their families.

The watersheds are now endangered by the development of metals mines in British Columbia. The mines involve large-scale infrastructure development and generate immense quantities of tailings and mine wastes. Water treatment will be required in perpetuity. The threat of catastrophic dam failures will hang over the watersheds for centuries after the closure of the mines.

Two hard-rock mining projects are currently operating with three others fully permitted, two more in permitting and a growing number in the advanced exploration stage. These mines are already generating huge quantities of acid-producing and toxic waste products, posing the threat of polluting downstream waters with highly toxic heavy metals. That pollution could cause large and permanent declines in fish populations that Southeast Alaska Native communities have relied on for thousands of years.

Canada has an obligation under international law to prevent activities by companies within its jurisdiction from violating human rights and causing transboundary environmental damage.

View of the Tulsequah River, looking east towards the confluence with Taku River.
View of the Tulsequah River, looking east towards the confluence with Taku River. (Photo courtesy of Chris Miller / Trout Unlimited)

Case Updates

February 27, 2024 In the News: KRBD

Alaska Tribes accuse Canada of human rights violations, request international hearing on mining

Mae Manupipatpong, Attorney, International Program: “Toxic water pollution doesn’t stop at the Canadian border. And human rights obligations don’t either.”

View of the Tulsequah River, looking east towards the confluence with Taku River.
February 19, 2024 Press Release

Alaska Tribes facing BC mining threat ask for international hearing

SEITC briefs the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on Canada’s violations

February 19, 2024 document

SEITC Observations on the Merits of BC Mines Case

A group of Alaska Tribes with roots along Canada’s transboundary rivers, the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), submitted a brief to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights requesting a hearing on the looming threats of several risky and under-regulated gold mines in British Columbia.