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IJC Host Important Webinar

May 23 10, 2020

Despite years of requests by Tribes and First Nations, scientists, businesses, residents and stakeholders across the international border with British Columbia, the US State Department and Global Affairs Canada have yet to uphold the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. That was the message delivered to two International Joint Commission (IJC) commissioners who participated in the first webinar on transboundary mining, hosted by Salmon Beyond Borders.

This groundbreaking webinar included top Tribal (US) and First Nations (Canada) leaders who have made numerous formal requests to their respective federal governments to invoke the treaty. IJC commissioners Rob Sisson (US Section) and Merrell-Ann Phare (CA Section) participated in the webinar, to explain IJC's role and their goal to deepen their awareness of Western (BC) issues and bring those issues to the IJC.

The IJC functions to implement the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, reviewing and making recommendations for projects in transboundary watersheds that have been formally referred to them by the federal governments of the US and Canada. Active pollution and major proposed mining developments in transboundary BC watersheds threaten downstream water quality, fish, and livelihoods. Teck Resources' mountaintop removal coal mining in the transboundary Kootenai (US) / Kootenay (CA) watershed exceeds provincial and US standards for selenium. In Alaska, numerous active and proposed mines threaten the international salmon fishery. Yet both the US and Canada have refused to invoke the treaty due to BC's resistance. No new IJC references have been made in BC since 1988, when the IJC concluded its review and recommendation against a proposed coalmine in the transboundary Flathead River. BC has acted assertively to block any additional IJC references that concern mining in the province. However, Sisson and Phare made it clear in the webinar that the entire Commission sees its role as supporting the public's access to the IJC, and that the IJC needs to do a better job looking at western regional transboundary water issues.

Key messages of the webinar included:

~The IJC's goals include deepening their awareness of Western (BC mining) issues, and bringing those issue to the IJC.
~The IJC wants to build deeper relationships with indigenous governments and nations.
~BC mining policy needs deep reform.
~Existing mine mitigation and proposed mines must be assessed at the watershed scale and be inclusive of all governments and downstream interests.
~Tribes and First Nations carry a deep tradition of respect for water and all living things, and must be included in the BC mining decision making.
~The Confederated, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana have requested IJC involvement in the Kootenai/Kootenay issue since 2002.
~The Ktunaxa First Nation clearly stated that they "have requested IJC involvement in the Kootenay transboundary river issue." They also stated, "We are very interested in understanding and exploring how the IJC might be able to help resolve the very serious problems of contamination of Koocanusa and the Kootenay River." And, " We will be raising that issue again... Will the BC government support IJC involvement?"

Tribes and First Nations understand that Teck and BC will be out of compliance with Montana's selenium standard when it is set at the end of 2020, and the federal governments must engage to address this violation. The existing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the four bordering US states (MT, ID, WA, AK) have prevented the engagement of the IJC. The entire webinar may be viewed here. It runs 94 minutes.

Webinar Participants:
Merrell-Ann Phare, IJC Commissioner, Canada Section
Rob Sisson, IJC Commissioner, Canada Section
Richard Peterson, President, Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
Shelly Fyant, Chairwoman, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe of Montana
Gary Aitken Jr., Chairman, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
Kathryn Teneese, Chairwoman, Ktunaxa Nation
Allen Edzerza, First Nations Energy and Mining Council
Tis Peterman, Executive Director, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission
Erin Sexton, Senior Scientist, University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station
Jill Weitz, Campaign Director, Salmon Beyond Borders, Alaska (moderator)

At Headwaters Montana we're optimistic that the US and Canadian governments will eventually recognize that BC mining policy threatens the treaty interests of downstream states. It's in the best interest of both countries to fairly invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty. Western states have not gained a formal reference to the IJC since 1988, and this record is way out of balance with the rest of our shared border.

We thank the webinar host, Salmon Beyond Borders, the IJC commissioners Sisson and Phare, Tribal and First Nations leaders and the University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station for
their participation in this important webinar.