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MiningWatch Urges B.C. & Canada to Honour Indigenous-led Environmental Review Panel’s Decision To Reject KGHM’s Ajax Mine

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MiningWatch Canada supports the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation’s (SSN) decision, released Saturday, March 4, to reject KGHM’s Ajax mine project near Kamloops, in British Columbia (see also decision background).

“The SSN decision was not taken lightly. It is the result of a year-long process led by a unique and historic Indigenous-led Review Panel which, after carefully examining the potential benefits and impacts of the project, concluded that it would bring about irreversible and unacceptable impacts to the land, waters, and people,” states Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

The Indigenous Review Panel concluded that the project would destroy part of Jacko Lake and Peterson Creek, an area sacred to affected First Nations. The Jacko Lake area (Pípsell in the Secwepemc language) is the site of an epic Secwepemc traditional oral story called the ‘Trout Children’, teachings which are at the root of Secwepemc law, culture, and ways of being on the land and with other beings, across time and generations (see about the Trout Children story here and here).

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The mine would destroy archeological sites dating back to 7,000 years, including the only ancient “hunting blind complex” recorded in the Government of B.C.’s Archeology Branch in the Secwepemc Nation territory. As stated by SSN: “The complex is irreplaceable and has invaluable significance for demonstrating and teaching Secwepemc history, culture and values.”

The SSN filed a claim in 2015 asserting a Title right to the lands and waters where the mine would be located. The province subsequently recognized strong prima facie for SSN aboriginal rights and title claims.

A unique process

Following initial discussions with Canada in 2015 and a Government-to-Government agreement with B.C. in 2016, the Indigenous-led Review Panel conducted its own social, cultural and environmental impact assessment of the project, as well as its own community consultation process. It followed both Western and Indigenous sciences, principles, values and approaches (see more about this unique process here, here, and here).

Panel members included elected representatives, as well as 26 individuals, elders, and youth, representing each the 13 historic families in the area. The Panel held a 5-day hearing and reviewed extensive written and oral evidence—including KGHM’s material. Panel members also conducted extensive consultation of traditional knowledge keepers and experts within their communities.

Lapointe says, “This was quite a unique and comprehensive process that could potentially serve as a model for future development projects in Canada. It is a concrete example of how reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can work in the context of impact assessment of resources projects—in line with the guiding principles of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Other impacts

In addition to impacts on First Nations, the Polish-owned KGHM mine would affect Kamloops residents’ health and well-being. If approved, the low grade, copper-gold mine would become the largest open pit ever mined on the edge of a city the size of Kamloops (90,000 people) in North-America—and possibly the world.

Many citizens and independent analysts conclude that the mine project is simply be “too big, too close.” The mine would be located less than 1.6 km from the closest homes and water wells, and within 6 kilometres of 12 schools, 4 seniors’ residences, and 1 hospital. Air pollution, noise impacts, daily blasts, ground tremors, water contamination, and potential catastrophic spills are all major concerns.

The mine would also affect the rich biodiversity of Pípsell area, which includes over 130 bird species, 40 mammals, multiple fish species, as well as 127 culturally significant plant species – 90 of which have medicinal uses, 45 are used as food, and 7 are used in spiritual ceremonies. Sharp-tail grouse, burrowing owls, and badgers are a few examples of species at risk in the area.

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