CONTRIBUTION · 5th April 2011
Sylvia J. Stephens
For your information, still waiting for responses.
March 20, 2011
Nisga'a Lisims Government, President
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Department of Fisheries (Canada)
Nathan Cullen, MP
Opposition of Proposed Re-Opening Kitsault Mine
I, Sylvia Jessie Stephens, member of the Nisga'a Nation oppose the proposed re-opening of the Kitsault mine for the following reasons:
According to the book I read in one of my University courses, "Without Surrender, Without Consent" written by Daniel Raunet c. 1996, Chapter 13 - Amax - Dollars vs. People, Page 194:
"In the spring of 1981, Amax of Canada Ltd. a wholly owned subsidiary of Amax Corporation, opened a new mine at a site named Kitsault on Nisgha land. One of the technical problems encountered was the disposal of wastes. Instead of building tailings ponds, the company saved $23 million and opted for a very simply solution, a pipe, starting at the refining mill and ending fifty metres below the surface of the sea. For a year and a half, until the world recession shut down the mine temporarily, Amax was dumping 12,000 tonnes of the tailings every day into Alice Arm, a Nisgha fjord. Over the twenty-six years of the mine's expected life, this would mean some 100 million tonnes of tailings. With levels of 400 grams of suspended solids per litre, the wastes discharged by the Kitsault molybdenum mine have a concentration that is 8,000 times greater than the allowable limit established by the Parliament of Canada.
Theoretically, such massive pollutions forbidden by law, but Cabinet can change the rules of the game simply by passing an order-in-council. This was done in Amax's case at the oddest time, in the middle of the federal election campaign which ended with the defeat of the Liberal government led by Pierre Trudeau. On 10 April 1979, order-in-council SOR-79-345, freed Amax from the normal regulations. The local population was not consulted. There was no requirement in law that the Nisgha be approached on the matter. They did not find out what the government had done until ten months later, in February 1980. Once again, their territories had been disposed of without their consent, and a new threat, the pollution of their fishing grounds, had been added to their lives.
Amax's consultant stated that the waste was nothing more than "sand". As early as 1977, the Canadian Department of the Environment knew of the possible consequences from studying a comparable situation. Its scientists had sounded a warning about a copper operation at the north end of Vancouver Island where the Utah Mines Company had been dumping wastes in to fjord since 1971. there, too, the material was supposed to settle to the bottom, but in a 1980 follow-up report, another federal expert, Michael Waldichuk, found that "tailings are resuspended by tidal turbulence and upwelling at the junction of Rupert and Holberg inlets."
The ecological impact was serious, as "bottom organisms are being smothered and benthic habit obliterated in the inlet trench." Further, according to Mr. Frank Walter, Chief of the Quatsino Band, the Indians have ceased to make use of this resource because waters are "muddy" in Quatsino Narrows and there is concern among the natives that seafood contaminated by the mine tailings may be unsafe to eat."
It was at least revealed in the spring of 1981 that the same Michael Waldichuk, an oceanographer, had also been asked for advice by Ottawa before the Amax plan was formally approved, his response was extremely guarded in a 7 November 1978 memorandum:
"The danger of setting a precedent by allowing tailing disposal into Alice Arm at this time undoubtedly exists. However, stopping disposal of tailings into Alice Arm in order to avoid such a precedent has to be a policy decision. It cannot be supported on environmental grounds with the available information. Each case must be considered on its own merits. As I had said, in the outset, our long-term goal should be elimination of unconfined tailings disposal into coastal waters and development of environmentally more acceptable mine-waste disposal systems."
When the Nishga did find out what had been decided behind their backs, they hired their own consultant to challenge the opinions of the experts who had sided with the multinational. In October 1980, the McCart report concluded that the tailings were not mere "sand", there was a real danger of contamination of the Natives food chain, the wastes could spread over a much larger area than originally forecast, and the Nishga were indeed consuming seafood and mammals from Alice Arm. In fact, the Nishga diet was higher in seafood than any other on the North American continent. According to a 1977 study by the Canadian fisheries department, the people of the Nass were catching 16,800 salmon a year, for their own consumption, and the McCart report stated that they were getting from 70 to 80 per cent of their animal protein from their fishing activities.
The preservation of the Alice Arm quickly attracted a broad coalition of concerned groups to support the Nishga cause. They found allies in all the churches, the BC Federation of Labour, fishermen, various ecological organizations, the New Democratic Party, and even, although more discreetly, some Conservative members of Parliament. The tribal council tried without much success to challenge the pollution permits in the courts-provincial permits had been issued after the federal go-ahead.
Another symbolic battle was predictably lost in May 1981 when a Nishga delegation led by James Gosnell and Rod Robinson went to New York to plead the native case at the Amax's shareholders meeting. The Anglican Church of Canada had acquired a thousand company shares and given the Nishga proxies to defend a resolution calling for a halt to the dumping. When the chips were counted in the prestigious Starlight Roof of the Waldorf Astoria, James Gosnell and his friends has lost, 30 million shares to 1.6 million.
Fisheries Minister Lablanc finally found a Victoria biologist John McInerney, to chair his commission into the internal inquiry. The McInerney Commission was boycotted by the Nishga and their allies. While it was setting, in May 1981, a cloudy "plume" of denser material was spotted in the fjord, drifting away from Amax pipe around seventy metres down. The alarm led to a brief mine shut-down followed by minor modifications in the disposal technique. In July, McInerney produced a spineless report recommending that the pipe discharging the tailing into the ocean be extended to a hundred metres beneath the surface from the original fitting. He did recognize that some forms of life would suffer from the mine, and that levels of lead, zinc, and perhaps also cadmium would be higher than in a normal environment. But, on the whole, his report did not seem overly concerned by potential hazards to the Nishga's health.
A study by the Environmental Health Committee of the BC Medical Association of one of the elements at issue:
Radium-226, showed how grave the situation was: About one millionth of a gram (one microgram-(mg) or 35 billionths of an ounce, in the body, can cause bone cancer. Moreover, a "Great variety of oceanic organisms accumulate radium far in excess of that present in sea water. Some marine micro-organisms (example diatoms) concentrate radium-225 from 1,000 to 3,000 times sea water levels.
In July of 1982, the Nishga obtained a moral victory of a sort. The Standing Joint Committee on Regulations and other Statutory Instruments - a little known body of the Canadian Parliament, the control of which the ruling Liberals had overlooked - condemned S)R-79-345 from the somewhat dry standpoint of procedure as "an usual or unexpected use of the powers conferred by the Fisheries Act."
Here were the results of four million tonnes effluent. The Scientists called for further studies, but they left no doubt as to the nature of the problem. A variety of fauna may be affected by these tailings due to the toxicity of heavy metal concentrations, increased turbidity limiting light penetration and primary production, and smothering of infaunal organisms.
The threat to Nishga health will not materialize immediately. When economic conditions improve and the mine re-opens, will the mud eventually move out of Alice Arm? Will the oolichan and salmon runs passing through the fjord be contaminated? Are the sea and land mammals that feed on the marine life going to be affected? How long will it take for toxic substances to concentrate along the food chains and eventually reach man? For the Nishga, the conclusion is ominous: they are the guinea pigs in this experiment.
The timing of order-in-council SOR-79-345 in conjunction with land claim negotiations gives the lie to Ottawa's public commitment to Native welfare: the process of erosion that began with the first colonists and the first missionaries is to be continued.
Whites are now increasingly confronted with same problem the natives face, a machine nobody seems able to control, a machine that eats the forest and the mountains, floods the valleys and paves the plains, spawning poisons everywhere. This machine - the machine of advanced technology at the sole service of profit - is faceless. In a system where the fate of human beings is shaped by the international eddies of commodities and capital, there is no culprit, there are only victims.
I write on behalf of 6,000 members of the Nisga'a Nation as we are not being consulted once again by our present leaders in the Nisga'a government. I will copy and paste what the President stated in the newspaper that I had extracted:
THE NISGA’A will vigorously pursue the provincial government’s commitment to sharing revenues from mineral taxes.
Speaking last week, Nisga’a Lisims Government president Mitchell Stevens said a revenue sharing model not only recognizes aboriginal interest in resources, but is a good business practice.
“It provides certainty,” said Stevens of a defined revenue sharing system. “It’s what I’ve been saying all along. It’s about economics. Uncertainty does not make for good economics.”
The comments follow those made last week in Toronto by Randy Hawes who spoke at a mining conference in his capacity as the provincial minister of state for mining.
“Our support for revenue sharing is unequivocal. We are determined to continue engaging with First Nations as fully as possible,” said Hawes.
“For the benefit of both the province and the First Nations, it is vital that First Nations play a significant role in the mining industry,” he added.
Mineral taxation revenue sharing is particularly relevant for the Nisga’a as several mining companies have projects in advanced stages.
One, Colorado-based Avanti Mining, wants to reopen a molybdenum property at Kitsault at the end of Alice Arm on the north coast.
It is within Nisga’a traditional territory but not within the Nisga’a treaty lands.
The company had a public meeting in Terrace last night, one of the requirements along the road leading to a formal application for environmental certification.
Depending upon approval, financing and signing up customers, Avanti is so far forecasting a mine life of 16 years, providing direct employment for 350 people. A 650-person construction workforce would be needed over a 25-month period.
Stevens says Avanti favours a tax revenue sharing program.
“We put forward our proposals and they’ve been very, very receptive,” said Stevens of sessions between Avanti officials and the Nisga’a Lisims Government.
Stevens did add that the Nisga’a are not yet in a position to decide whether they should support Avanti’s mine plan or not because the project has to undergo a full environmental evaluation.
Avanti chief executive officer Craig Nelson says the company has no trouble supporting a Nisga’a plan to be included in taxation sharing agreements with the province.
“In general we support it,” said Nelson. “This can be a huge benefit to proponent companies in general. Companies already sign impacts and benefits agreements. If it were all to fall on a company’s shoulders, that would be a huge burden and that could affect the economics of a project.”
Nelson said revenue sharing agreements with the province also add to the certainty of the steps needed in the development of a mine.
Nelson is familiar with taxation revenue sharing agreements with First Nations because he sits on the board of New Gold, the company that has the New Afton copper-gold-silver mine near Kamloops.
Last year, the province signed an agreement with the Tk’emlups and Skeetchestn communities to provide $30 million over 20 years from the mine’s taxation base. That’s nearly a third of the total revenue the province expects to receive.
The province signed a second agreement, also last year, with the McLeod Lake Band, providing it with between $35 million and $40 million over the anticipated 20-year life span of the Mt. Milligan gold and copper mine now being built 155km northwest of Prince George.
The overall provincial plan is that revenue sharing won’t be a cost to a mining company and will instead be decided by agreement between itself and a First Nation group or groups.
The amount of revenue shared will be based on mine size, and the nature and interests of First Nations involved.
Impact benefits agreements are arrangements between First Nations and mining companies and involve job placements, business opportunities and community assistance.
The bottom line- we oppose the re-opening of this mine as a lot of our people have been diagnosed with cancer over the years, do your duty to consult with us before making plans to participate in corporate greed. As the book states, we are the last to be consulted and with this Nisga'a Treaty, at no time did we ever give authorization to the select few to make decisions such as this on our behalf.
I am very passionate about what I do as a Legal Advocate for our people as at the present time, I am supporting my niece who has had a mastectomy in September 2010 and now she will be getting five to six weeks of radiation in Vancouver.
Why does the Nisga'a Government not care about the safety of our people and the health hazards? This mining company is like Amax, they don't care, as long as they see dollar signs!
I will pursue this if the Federal permit has been approved and if so, there will be noises made. My wish is that our best leader of all time, the late James Gosnell was beside us today to fight for us, he is one leader who cannot be replaced as all our leaders today have one thing on their minds and in their hearts, fat salaries and power to try to control us! We have our own minds and we shall not be dictated to anymore! This will be sent to the media and we will not be silenced!
Do us this big favour, do not approve this mining application!
Sylvia J. Stephens, BA
Note: I have over 1,770 friends on Facebook and I will post this letter on so that others will be aware and will distribute across the country, I believe in Freedom of Speech!