By MARY CATHARINE MARTIN, SALMON BEYOND BORDERS
Almost a century ago , a 14-year-old Tahltan girl traveled down the Stikine River to marry the Tlingit Chief Shakes VII of Wrangell. At the time, arranged marriages were common practice: the Stikine has long served as a corridor for the different peoples who live along it.
Colonization and the resulting border between the U.S. and Canada, however, changed the way the Indigenous peoples traveled up and down the river.
Decades later, the great-granddaughter of that arranged marriage, Tis Peterman, has been connecting with long-lost family in Canada. Once more, the Stikine River — which brought her great-grandparents together so many years ago — are sparking relationships.
Tis is the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), which represents 15 of the 19 federally recognized tribes in Southeast Alaska, and works to defend the salmon-rich transboundary rivers of the Salmon Coast: the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, all threatened by British Columbia’s recklessly regulated large-scale open-pit mines and their toxic mining waste dumps.
British Columbia mining along the transboundary rivers of the Salmon Coast is a concern many of her newfound Tahltan relatives and friends in B.C. share, and which has brought them together. It’s even helped her learn more about her great-grandmother.
Before any of that, for Tis, though, came a love of the river and the region she has called home her entire life.
Growing up on the Stikine
“My earliest memory is being on a beach at 5:30 in the morning digging cockles,” Tis told us. “We didn’t know we were poor growing up, because we always had jarred deer.”
Tis’ mother, Mae Dailey, was a Raven and a member of the Kaach.adi clan. Her father, Marc Dailey, was a Kik.sadi Eagle.
She and her family foraged for beach asparagus. Her father went up the Stikine and hunted ducks. They harvested herring eggs in the spring. They ate hooligan, and salmon. Her father ran a seine boat, and was also a gillnetter and a pile driver, doing whatever he could to feed the family.
“We were always out in the woods doing something,” she said. “We grew up in a small house on Main Street, and the woods were our playground, basically.”
They also traded for food: the Wrangell sawmill was across from them, and her father traded Japanese sailors on the boats collecting the cut trees fish for gallon jugs of soy sauce and 25 pound bags of rice.
In spite of their time outdoors, Tis and her siblings weren’t brought up traditionally. Her mother was one of those known as the Lost Generation, forbidden to speak Tlingit from a very young age.
“When I was younger, there was one neighbor lady that they’d speak Tlingit together,” she said of her mother. At the kitchen table they’d talk English until they wanted to talk about something and they didn’t want me to hear it, and then they would switch to Tlingit. Later on, she didn’t have anyone to speak it with.”
To her great grandfather, Chief Shakes, a Western education was the ticket into the future.
“He saw education as the way out — a way of survival for us,” she said.
Later in life, Tis got involved with the Tribe — the Wrangell Cooperative Association — and helped renovate the Shakes House, the clan house on Shakes Island. One thing led to another, and she soon found herself representing the Tribe at transboundary meetings. She didn’t yet know it would change her whole outlook.
Changing a way of thinking
Tis was attending the Prince of Wales Mining Symposium in 2014 when she was taken aback by the attitude of the mining company presenting, Seabridge Gold, she said.
Seabridge Gold is proposing to build what would be the largest open-pit mine in North America just miles from the American border in the Unuk/Nass watershed, which flows into Alaska near Ketchikan.
“The attitude was that they’re going to educate us on how wonderful they’re going to be,” she said.
As Seabridge representatives continued to speak, the dissent in the room began to grow.
“Several Native people were basically calling these people liars,” she said. “You could hear people starting to say ‘No. No. No. And it was getting louder in the crowd.”
That moment was a game-changer for her, she said.
“It’s really strange, because — I’ve thought about this a lot — over the years, I learned to be one of ‘the good Indians.’ You do things right. You’re on time. You’re not appearing to be slacking. That’s how I was raised. So sitting in that room full of Natives, and then responding to these corporate, non-Indigenous people, I was sort of surprised. I thought ‘We’re not being good Indians.’ Refusing to believe what the corporate world was telling us. It’s changed me from a nontraditional way of thinking to a more Indigenous way of thinking over the years… in six years, my whole mentality has changed. And I appreciate and embrace the Indigenous part of me. It made me be a little bit more introspective on what’s important, and how important it is to save our land now, for the generations out. Because I knew this was there. I knew the mines were there. But before, it was distant — very distant.”
Tis also organizes summits of Indigenous leaders and representatives from all up and down the Salmon Coast. The last time the Tribes and First Nations met, in October of last year, they declared a salmon emergency, due in large part to threats from British Columbia mines, as well as declining salmon populations across the coast. Different nations and different Tribes have different priorities, but “everybody on both sides of the border can agree: Clean water is everything,” she said.
When the Salmon Spoke
Now, Tis is working with Salmon Beyond Borders, First Nation leaders in B.C. and the theatre company Ping Chong + Co. on a storytelling project connecting peoples along the Stikine, on both sides of the border.
As part of that project, last year she was in B.C. speaking with Tahltan artist, elder and leader Allen Edzerza about her great-grandmother.
“I was telling him the story about my great-grandmother being brought down the river when she was 14,” Tis said. “And her arranged marriage to Chief Shakes. We always called her Grandma Suzy. I was telling him how she couldn’t speak Tlingit, and we never knew her last name. He turned around, and looked at me, and said ‘Her last name was Quock.’”
Though her travels up the Stikine are paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she knows the journey will continue.
“When we get through this craziness,” she said, “I’m going to travel up to Telegraph Creek, tell my story, and see who I’m related to. We have stories to tell and stories I don’t know what they are yet. There’s so much to tell that nobody knows.”
To learn more about Tis, and her most recent project,When the Salmon Spoke, click here.
Tis Peterman is retiring from her position as Executive Director at Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission at the end of June 2020. It has been an honor for those of us at Salmon Beyond Borders to work alongside Tis, in the efforts to defend and sustain our shared, transboundary salmon rivers.
Dear Wild Salmon Supporter,
We hope this message finds you and your loved ones healthy and safe.
The past few months have been full of uncertainty for many of us, with the COVID-19 global pandemic as the new, abnormal backdrop to our daily lives.
May is our favorite time of year at the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign - daylight grows longer, the salmon return, and we all get ready for long days outside and on the water. It is also this time of year when we get to see a lot of you for our annual summer kickoff BBQ in Juneau - and after last year’s incredible celebration with more than 150 people, our team was really looking forward to doing it again this year.
With heavy hearts, the Salmon Beyond Borders team has decided that we are not going to host any in-person events or visit communities throughout the transboundary region as we normally would during the summer months. While we will deeply miss the opportunity to visit our favorite places and gather with you and the rest of our salmon community in person, we know this is the right choice.
We might not be able to gather in person this month, but we do have two very exciting, virtual events planned for May that we are really looking forward to!
Panelists include: President Richard Peterson - Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Chairwoman Shelly Fyant - Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe of Montana, Chairman Gary Aitken Jr. - Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Commissioner Rob Sisson - International Joint Commission, U.S. Section, Commissioner Merrell-Ann Phare - International Joint Commission, Canada Section, Jill Weitz - director, Salmon Beyond Borders, Erin Sexton - senior scientist, University of Montana, Allen Edzerza - First Nations Energy and Mining Council.
We hope to see you online this month!
Now more than ever, we are grateful to live and work along the wild rivers of the Salmon Coast. As always, your continued engagement is what makes our collective efforts to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers possible. Please reach out to us anytime.
Be healthy and well -
The Salmon Beyond Borders Team
Jill, Heather, Mary Catharine, and Bre
This year has been a big one for the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign.
All of your emails, phone calls, and testimonies have contributed directly to some big actions in 2019 that move us closer to establishing binding protections for the rivers, jobs, and way of life in Southeast Alaska and Northwest British Columbia (B.C.). We have a lot of work to do in the year ahead and look forward to staying connected throughout the region.
It was difficult to do, but here is what we have narrowed down as the top five highlights from 2019...
5. U.S. Federal Dollars Granted for Water Quality Testing in U.S.-B.C. Rivers
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the Interior-Environment Appropriations sub-committee directed $1.8 million to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for the installation and operation of stream gauges in U.S. rivers shared with British Columbia (B.C.). USGS will work with Tribes and state agencies to carry out this very important work for Alaska and other U.S. states that share a border with B.C. (Washington, Idaho, and Montana). The goal is to establish defensible baseline water quality information, which will enable the U.S. to detect water quality changes at the international border shared with British Columbia.
4. Imperial Metals: Skagit River Exploration, No Charges for Mount Polley Disaster
In March of 2019, Imperial Metals sold 70% of its shares of the Red Chris mine in the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine River to Australian mining giant Newcrest Metals. Shortly after the buyout, Imperial Metals applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-bearing Skagit River, which flows from British Columbia across the international border into Washington state. The Skagit serves as the largest producer of Chinook salmon for the Puget Sound and Southern Resident Killer Whale population--and is a key source of power for the City of Seattle.
August 4th, 2019 marked the five-year anniversary of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine waste dam failure into the Fraser River watershed, and also marked the deadline for Canada to pursue charges against Imperial Metals under the Federal Fisheries Act — a deadline that came and went. At this time, no charges have been filed against Imperial Metals. Despite significant opposition from Tribes and First Nations, stakeholders, U.S. lawmakers, Governor Inslee, and the City of Seattle, the B.C. government is still considering whether to grant Imperial Metals a permit for mining exploration in the Skagit River headwaters.
3. British Columbia Policy and Legislation: Continued Pressure & New Opportunities
In May, 30 organizations launched the B.C. Mining Reform Coalition. The coalition represents nearly 30 local, provincial and national organizations from a wide range of sectors, including stakeholders, First Nations, and legal experts, including Salmon Beyond Borders. Learn more about the efforts to Reform B.C. Mining Law here.
Last month, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to pass legislation implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The legislation passed unanimously. It will take some time to ensure all B.C. laws are consistent with the 46 articles of UNDRIP, as called for by this legislation, but passage of this legislation is sure to have far-reaching impacts in B.C. and beyond for years to come.
At the end of 2018, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission filed a petition alleging human rights violations from B.C. transboundary mines. B.C.’s recent legislation regarding UNDRIP, including the requirement that developers seek the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous people, is an important step forward. However, the provincial government has yet to acknowledge the rights and requests of Tribes on the U.S. side of the border, whose ways of life are threatened by operating, abandoned and proposed large-scale Canadian mines upstream.
Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission also led the effort to ensure the Stikine River was recognized as one of “America's Most Endangered Rivers” in 2019.
2. Mine Waste Dam Standards Under Global Review After Multiple Dam Failures
Following the Mount Polley disaster in 2014, there have been over 20 major mine tailings dam failures worldwide. This year alone, hundreds of people were killed in mine waste dump disasters. The second catastrophic mine waste dam failure in Brazil in just over three years, at Vale’s Brumadinho mine, killed over 200 people in January. These disasters have focused attention on a growing global concern: the lack of global tailings dam standards for the mining industry. Never before has so much scrutiny been placed on the global mining industry and tailings waste dam standards.
The official report on the Mount Polley mine disaster concluded that an average of two mine waste dam failures will occur every 10 years in British Columbia alone--though there have been multiple failures in the last five years worldwide. In northern British Columbia there are over 35 existing mine waste dumps, including the massive Red Chris mine tailings dam near the Stikine River. Dozens more mine tailings dams are proposed in the headwaters of our shared transboundary salmon rivers.
With all of the global attention on the mining industry's lack of tailings dam standards, will British Columbia look to improving theirs? The Reform B.C. Mining Coalition has suggestions for where the provincial government should start.
1. Eight U.S. Senators Send Letter to B.C. Premier Horgan, IJC Visits Alaska & B.C.
Last June, in an unprecedented and bipartisan effort, all eight U.S. senators from the four U.S. states bordering B.C. — Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — urged B.C. Premier John Horgan to recognize that contamination from upstream B.C. mining in shared U.S.-Canada rivers threatens United States businesses, citizens and resources. In a press release following the letter, Senator Murkowski said:
“This letter shows solidarity from our states and calls for greater protections for our transboundary watersheds. Reforms that ensure mining projects in British Columbia don’t impact Southeast Alaska are essential to protecting our way of life, and must include a system of financial assurances to assure sustained protections of vulnerable natural resources.”
Following the letter to Premier Horgan, at the invitation of Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan, four members of the International Joint Commission (IJC), an organization that works to prevent and resolve disputes under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, visited Southeast Alaska to meet with Tribes, government officials, stakeholders, and industry members about their transboundary mining concerns.
All six members of the IJC visited Victoria, B.C. in early December but only met with provincial officials and members of industry, and not with the diversity of people with whom the IJC met in Alaska.
THANK YOU for all of your support this year!
Take action - add your name here to urgent letters for the U.S. State Department and Global Affairs Canada.
Stay up to date on our NEW SBB Community Calendar and Events Page — we look forward to seeing you in the new year! Reach out to us anytime; we always love to hear from you.
Protect what you love. DONATE to defend our shared transboundary salmon rivers.
OpinionBy: Norman Brandson
Posted: 11/23/2019 3:00 AM |
The United States Bureau of Reclamation issued a public notice in September initiating an exercise to define the scope of an environmental impact statement for a project called the Eastern North Dakota Alternate Water Supply Project (ENDAWS).
On Oct. 16, the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority convened a conference in Fargo to fan enthusiasm for the construction of a $1.19-billion pipeline to deliver Missouri River water to Fargo North Dakota. Construction is slated to begin next spring.
ENDAWS and the pipeline are not separate projects, but the two halves of the Red River Valley Water Supply project (RRVWS), a slimmed-down version the defunct Garrison Diversion. In fact, ENDAWS proposes to use already constructed features of Garrison to deliver Missouri River water to the pipeline, discharging into the Sheyenne River, which meets the Red River downstream of Fargo.
Garrison went into hibernation after the International Joint Commission — the bi-national administrative body of the Canada/U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty consisting of six commissioners (three from each country) — recommended in 1976 that the project not proceed because of the risk of transferring harmful invasive organisms from the Missouri to the Hudson Bay drainage.
It is a measure of the prominence of the treaty and the professionalism of the commission in those days that the national governments had sufficient confidence in the commission’s objectivity and wisdom to ask for its advice; that they were able to reach consensus on such a contentious issue; and that both governments accepted their recommendations without reservation.
The commission also recommended that transfer of water from the Missouri to the Hudson Bay basin could take place "if and when the governments of Canada and the United States agree that methods have been proven that will eliminate the risk of biota transfer, or if the question of biota transfer is agreed to be no longer a matter of concern." To date, neither of these conditions has been met.
The RRVWS differs from the original Garrison proposal in scale and declared purpose (an alternative water supply for eastern North Dakota in times of severe drought), but poses many of the same risks. And these risks will be constant — it is inconceivable that a multibillion-dollar project will sit idle for years at a time. Uses will be found for this water when no drought exists. The tap will be permanently open.
In recent years, the treaty has faded into insignificance in the power corridors of Ottawa. The Harper government, perhaps sensing — incorrectly — a faint anti-development aroma, ignored the treaty. They were content to have the commission promote good feelings under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a Canada/U.S. pact negotiated and operated outside of the treaty.
During its first term, the current government, having expended all of its diplomatic capital on renegotiating the Free Trade Agreement, was content to let British Columbia steer the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Canada also studiously ignored a proven pollution threat to Montana and Idaho originating in B.C., and dismissed ongoing grumbling from Alaska about mining activities in B.C. Nor did it appear interested in the looming reality of the RRVWS project.
When certain political vectors align in Washington, free trade agreements can go "poof." There are elements in the U.S. state department that would be quite happy to see the treaty disappear, or at least fall into disuse. After all, in bilateral diplomacy with our American neighbours, the treaty is a unique example where we sit at the table as co-operating equals. The treaty binds commissioners to apply their expertise and knowledge, but to not represent "interests." This is quite unlike the power negotiating that takes place on other issues such as free trade.
There are many lakes straddling the international boundary, and about as many rivers flowing south across it as flow north. The treaty has largely disarmed the potential for harmful disputes and cross-border tension. Both countries have benefited enormously from their co-operative management of shared waters.
Perhaps now that free trade is (almost) in the rearview mirror, Canada can turn its attention to re-energizing the Boundary Waters Treaty. Job one is to demonstrate the value of the treaty to our U.S. colleagues. Job two is to ensure that the principles of the treaty are consistently applied; that no actions on shared lakes and rivers with potential to harm the neighbouring country escape the purview of the treaty.
We can start by promoting the involvement of the commission at an early stage when projects have trans-boundary implications. The commission does not make crazy recommendations; if Alaska alleges harm originating in a B.C. mine, it is not up to B.C. to decide whether or not this ought to be reviewed under the treaty.
If such an allegation is unfounded, the commission will quickly determine so. What better stamp of approval than the imprimatur of the commission? Canada needs to get seriously involved in the Columbia River Treaty negotiations. The U.S. state department is. Also, start taking an interest in the RRVWS project, as there are several unanswered questions related to the degree of protection necessary to safeguard Manitoba waters.
The risk potential is significantly higher than was the case of the Northwest Area Water Supply project (NAWS). Manitoba spent 15 years in U.S. courts, not to stop that project, but to successfully affirm that Canadian concerns had to be taken into account. Had NAWS been reviewed under the treaty, an outcome beneficial to both countries would have been reached years earlier and millions of dollars would have been saved.
And what of Manitoba? It is, of course, unthinkable that our government is sitting on its haunches while pipe is about to be laid that will join the Missouri and Red rivers.
We must assume that provincial officials are in contact with our department of foreign affairs, urging immediate and forceful federal involvement, and also in communication with the Bureau of Reclamation to determine how to relate to its review process.
Hopefully, they will reveal their strategy to us soon.
Norman Brandson was deputy minister of the former Manitoba departments of environment, water stewardship and conservation from 1990 to 2006.
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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