Almost two years to the day since Imperial Metals’ Polley Mine spewed four billion gallons of wastewater and toxic sludge into the pristine forests of northeastern British Columbia, the mine—and the pond that breached in August 2014—is open again.
But despite assurances from B.C. officials two years ago that the company would be responsible for cleanup, the sludge from the spill is still nestled in the waterways, forests and land that the effluent spilled into—and the pond is ready to be refilled, according to a recent op-ed in the Vancouver Sun. The one thing that the company, government, First Nations and environmentalists agree on is that it was one of the worst environmental mining disasters in Canadian history.
The continuing and unabated environmental damage—effluent is still being discharged into Quesnel Lake, a drinking water source and salmon spawning ground, under a temporary permit granted by the province to Imperial Metals—prompted several Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society members to occupy the offices of Imperial Metals on the anniversary of the spill on August 4, and four protesters were arrested. Days earlier, some of the same protesters had blockaded the mine, reported the Vancouver Sun.
“The province has no jurisdiction to be issuing permits to companies illegally operating on our Sovereign Territories without the free, prior, informed consent of the Secwepemc Tribal Peoples,” said Secwepemc society member Kanahus Manuel in a statement.
“We want to show Imperial Metals and all levels of government that we can and will shut this mine down in assertion of our indigenous rights and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Manuel said. “The province has no jurisdiction to be issuing permits to companies illegally operating on our sovereign territories without the free, prior, informed consent of the Secwepemc tribal peoples.”
Meanwhile the Tsilquotin First Nation has said it’s planning to sue, citing economic and cultural harm stemming from damage to salmon habitat.
“Ts’eman (salmon) are at the core of Tsilhqot’in culture. Any threat to the salmon we depend on has the potential to directly impact the livelihoods of us as Tsilhqot’in people,” said Chief Francis Laceese, Chief of Tl’esqox, in a statement. “The full impact to our Ts’eman is still not fully known. Our people will not stand by and watch environmental disasters wipe out our sources of food, spirit and ceremony. We already are facing a huge impact to our sustenance because of the dramatic moose decline in the Territory. This is our economy and right that is impacted. ”
Likewise, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) expressed its support of the protesting First Nations and noted that British Columbia authorities, though blasted by a provincial auditor’s report after the accident for its lack of oversight and enforceable safety controls, had not done enough to avoid such disasters in the future. In addition, no charges were ever filed, and the company was not even fined.
“Two short years ago, the mad rush for higher dividends created the conditions ripe for the apparent gross negligence at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine, combined with the lackadaisical enforcement of the B.C. government, lead to one of the most infamous instances of flagrant regulatory misconduct and immense devastation to the land, water and air ever seen in this province,” UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a statement on August 10. “In this regard, it is absolutely outrageous that charges have not been laid against Imperial Metals. The collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam will be long remembered as the most destructive assault of Indigenous Title, Rights and Treaty Rights for all First Nations living in the Fraser River Basin.”