By Barb Brower
Salmon Arm Observer
There will be no second chances if the Secwepemc First Nations has their way.
Neskonlith Band Chief Judy Wilson issued an eviction notice Wednesday to Imperial Metals, owner of the proposed Ruddock Creek Mine, which is located high above the headwaters of the Adams River near Tum Tum Lake east of Avola.
Wilson does not buy into the province’s assurance that all environmental assessments are rigorous.
The eviction from land the Neskonlith claim to own under aboriginal title is a response to the recent Mt. Polley tailings pond disaster. It was a “catastrophic breach” that Wilson says could have been prevented had Imperial Metals had proper risk management practices in place and federal and provincial governments properly assessed and monitored the operation.
Imperial Metals representatives did not return calls for comment by press time.
Wilson charges that, due to prior inaction on the part of everyone involved, the flow of the breach has not yet been stopped, with toxic substances continuing to discharge into the environment.
“The result is long-term impacts on our Secwepemc lands, waters and the health of our people,” wrote Wilson in the Aug. 12 eviction notice, charging the company has significantly contributed to the cumulative impact for all Secwepemc people.
“Imperial Metals cannot be allowed to cause any further impacts in Secwepemculecw,” she writes, pointing to the importance of Adams River sockeye salmon to the livelihoods of many Indigenous peoples in the B.C. Interior.
Wilson laments the federal government’s decision last month to forego an environmental assessment for Ruddock Creek, deferring it to the province to perform a single assessment – this despite vigorous opposition from several Shuswap bands.
“Imperial Metals has already been discharging water from their exploratory mining activities into this extremely sensitive watershed and the habitat of the Adams River sockeye salmon…” she wrote, noting First Nations’ responsibility to protect the land for future generations and the need to refuse any mining development, particularly in the sacred headwaters of the Adams River.
Wilson points out the Neskonlith band has neither given their consent to, nor signed any agreements with the province or the company and assert Secwepemc “inherent jurisdiction and aboriginal title” to bar Imperial Metals owners, employees, insurers and investors from accessing Shuswap territory.
“Our elders stated they do not want anything that poisons our water or salmon,” Wilson wrote, noting Neskonlith band members have made a declaration opposing the Ruddock Creek Mine and held water ceremonies to protect the water and salmon. “Our council stands with our elders and people – we oppose the proposed Ruddock Creek Mine by Imperial Metals and hereby evict Imperial Metals from our territory.”
In an Aug. 11 email statement, Ministry of Environment maintains it is too early to draw conclusions about the cause of the failure at the Mt. Polley mine tailings management facility and defends its environmental assessment process.
“All of British Columbia’s environmental assessments are rigorous, thorough reviews of the potential for environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects from a proposed project,” reads the statement. “The proposed Ruddock Creek lead-zinc mine is in the early stages of the environmental assessment process.”
Mining Watch Canada co-ordinator Ramsay Hart notes that while a tailings pond at Ruddock Creek Mine would be significantly smaller than the one at Mt. Polley, it will be built on the same basic principles.
“We often have a hard time getting companies to admit a tailing pond failure is even a conceivable possibility, so they don’t necessarily want to include that scenario in their assessments and planning,” Hart says, noting Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch admitted he would have denied the possibility of a breach had he been asked just two weeks prior to the incident. “It speaks to the overconfidence industry has in the engineering of tailings ponds.”
Shuswap Environmental Action Society president Jim Cooperman says no mine, regardless of who is in power, has ever, to his knowledge, had a mining application turned down.
“With the BC Liberals, their mantra has been cut red tape; that’s how they label it and that basically means cutting back on the rules that companies operate on and letting industry self-regulate,” he says. “The term they have there is professional reliance and the professionals are hired by company. If they tell them what they don’t want to know, they’ll hire other professional who will tell them what they do want to hear.”
Cooperman, who was given a tour in 2008 when the mine was owned by Selkirk Mines, says the main problem at Ruddock Creek is that the original plan to truck the ore away for processing was dropped in favour of a tailings pond at the mine site.
Chief Wilson said Wednesday that the Neskonlith don’t want a mine, regardless of who owns it.
“We’ve been at this for a long time and we are totally opposed,” she said, noting Secwepemc protests have fallen on deaf ears. “They continued to develop it but we want the mine to shut.”
A notice of eviction will be posted at the Ruddock Creek site and a blockade will be considered following meetings with elders and other band members next week.
In the meantime, Wilson will accompany a group to Vancouver Friday where they will hand deliver a formal eviction notice to Imperial Metals executives.