Tribal nations of Southeast Alaska have called on an international body to take action in preventing human rights violations related to the ability to practice their culture and maintain their livelihoods, stemming from six hard-rock mines in British Columbia.
The Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), which represents 15 sovereign Tribal nations of Southeast Alaska, outlined concerns in a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Inter-American Commission).
SEITC’s petition explains that the six mines in British Columbia, four of which are proposed and two operating, are likely to release harmful pollution that threatens the health and viability of salmon and eulachon, migratory fish that spawn in the waters of the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk watersheds. Because these fish are essential to maintaining generations-old subsistence practices that form a mainstay of the livelihood, culture, and traditions of the 15 Tribal nations represented by SEITC, Canada must prevent such pollution under international human rights law.
Failing to do so constitutes a violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to the benefits of their culture, an adequate means of subsistence, use and enjoy their traditional lands, and health and well-being. The governments of Canada and British Columbia have also not consulted with or sought the free, prior and informed consent of the SEITC Tribal nations during the approval or permitting of any of the six mines, as required by international law.
The Inter-American Commission, created by the Organization of American States, exists to protect and uphold human rights in the Americas. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, filed the petition on behalf of SEITC. The Petition seeks an inquiry by the Inter-American Commission and other action to ensure the protection of the rights of Tribal people in Alaska.
“Our cultural existence as Indigenous peoples depend on a respectful relationship to our ancestral lands and waters,” said Jennifer Hanlon, Vice Chair of SEITC. “Any action, such as large-scale mining, that threatens the salmon and elements that nourish our communities is a direct threat to our human rights.”
“Canada has an international obligation to prevent mines in British Columbia from violating the human rights of Native communities in Southeast Alaska,” said Ramin Pejan, attorney for Earthjustice’s international program. “This includes preventing toxic mine pollution from harming fish populations in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds, which are central to these communities’ subsistence, cultural and spiritual practices.”