With water and sediment samples carefully packed in the back of the car I left Quesnel Lake and began heading south.
I stopped at the sacred fire lit along the road to Likely, at the turnoff to Imperial Metal's Mt. Polley Mine. A small group, of mostly women and children, are holding a vigil there. The mine workers wave in support as they pass them. The miners have been hurt by this as well. Many have lost their jobs and they fear the mine will close. The failure by government to force Imperial Metals to build a proper tailing pond has hurt everyone, including the credibility of the BC government.
In the tradition of the people who have adopted me, twin sisters like these two beautiful women, are a sign of the salmon. To stand between them on their birthdate was an honour and seems a hopeful omen. I left them with a rock from a beach where the whales rub. If whales could talk to us, I feel certain they would beg us to save the salmon they need to survive. The coast and the interior need to lock arms as Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Kwik'wasutinuxw Haxwa'mis has said to me many times. Incredibly one of the women at the fire is part of an effort to stop the expansion of salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound. The salmon threaded us together.
It was hard to leave the camp, but I had been asked by the Chief Darrell Bob of Xaxli'p to meet with the people and tell them what I have seen. I carried this statement from the camp and played it in Lillooett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi9_xPpUOko
They have a facebook page Secwepemc Sacred Fire at Imperial Metals Mount Polley Disaster Site
Please consider helping them with food, communications, and moral and physical support - show up if you can. The way government has handled this disaster is not worthy of us. Minister Bennett first told us it was just a bunch of sand that had come down from the mine - no mention of the arsenic, cadmium, 3,114 kg of mercury known to be in the tailing pond. Then he said it was no different from the 10,000 avalanches that occur in BC every year! That he announced we might "get lucky." Looking at the wasteland, feeling the burning in my nose and eyes does not feel "lucky", it feels like poisoning and I can't image the millions of juvenile sockeye salmon rearing Quesnel Lake are feeling "lucky" either.
The Premier has not shown strong leadership. First she appointed Conservation Officers to do the investigation, which confused everyone. Then very quickly and perhaps after gauging that the public was on to the fact that this was a lot more than a sand avalanche, announced there will be two seperate reviews of what happened. That is nice, but there needs to be a plan to clean this up and no one is voicing that. If you came across an accident and a person lay bleeding on the road - do you a.) Google the make of the car to see if it has a problem or b.) apply first aid and make sure the person survives?
Here is my interview with CBC
And CBC On the Island
As I drove south the sheer beauty and diversity and wildlife of British Columbia was revealed around every corner.
Whenever I got glimpses of the mighty Fraser pouring towards the ocean, I had to wonder how much Mt. Polley tailings, water and blue film was in the water I was looking at.
Once your eyes are opened, you cannot close them again.
Pulling into the Xaxli'p band office the impact of Imperial Metal's inattention to the integrity of their tailing pond took on a new and devastating dimension. Fishing is not a sport here, it is central to the people of the Xaxli'p Nation. It is who they are and what they are made of.
The hall was packed with over 300 people. Edlers, mothers, babies, young men, five chiefs heard from the people who had taken a flight over the disaster area. The collapsed area of the tailing pond is still oozing waste downstream into the Fraser watershed 15 days later. Everyone wanted to know if the salmon swimming past Lillooet were safe to be eaten, 400 river km south of the Mt. Polley Mine (red arrow).
I applaud Chiefs Darrell Bob, Michelle Edwards and Francis Alec, for trying to protect their people. Real leadership in extremely tough times. They don't trust the reports that just sand fell into the lake and so have sent samples of locally caught sockeye to be tested. I told them what I had seen and that this toxic mess cannot be allowed to fester for generations. This generation here, the one that let this happen, has the responsibility to clean this up. Imperial Metals does not let their money leak out of the bank. The things they care about, they hold onto. They just did not care enough about their massive tailing pond to reinforce the earthern berm with rock. Everyone seemed know it was going to collapse and it did. These chiefs care about the people who elected them and they are taking the heat for their decisions and hold strong. They don't let the fickle winds of popularity guide them.
That night a woman described how she went to prepare one of the sockeye and that the skin fell away from the flesh as if it had been cooked. It left a tingling sensation in her fingers. She is afraid. Most salmon caught appear normal, but as a precaution Chief Darrell Bob sent samples of the dried fish to the lab and awaits results. He is not going to rely on government who viewed the disaster and told the people we "could catch a lucky break because the waste may not be poisonous." Really? Copper and gold mining tailings are not poisonous? We already know what went into this tailing pond and I offer the article below without judgement.
Click here to read this article.
When I left Lillooet, I met Ray Bewza and followed his motorcycle to what seemed a random place on the side of the road. We left our vehicles and walked down the steep canyon. This is a traditional fishing ground, where there were reports of red spots all over the sockeye. Every year since the Cohen Commission I have traveled the Fraser River watershed tracking European viruses associated with Norwegian salmon farms worldwide. Ray was my guide.
Sure enough 6 of the 15 sockeye caught were speckled with localized hemoraging. This can be the symptoms of disease. I sampled them quickly in the hot canyon breeze.
Thank you Ray - it is not easy to catch up with sockeye in the mighty Fraser River!
I took the jar of mysterious blue film collected from the surface of Quesnel Lake to a lab, but the blueness had vanished. The contents of the jar appeared as clear as the water of Quesnel Lake has always been, but then when the lid was turned there was the hiss of escaping gas. The genie escaped the bottle its molecules dancing free... Water does not hiss. Still no word from the Ministry of Environment on what this is even though they are apparently aware of it. And so our work continues. Stay tuned.
Driving home I welcomed the cool saltiness of the Pacific Ocean, but everytime I passed a lake or river, I thought how lucky the people and animals of that place are that no mining tailings are in their water. What if Nimpkish Lake was full of mining tailings, how would the Namgis deal with it? If tailings were in Kingcome River, what would the Dzawada'enuxw do? What if it was the Tsolum River, or Cowichan?
There is an open gash upon our land, the land that feeds us and makes the oxygen we breath. We need to reach our arms, voices and hearts out to heal this place. Please help me think how we can do this. How can we inspire government and Imperial Metals to put the mining tailings back into a much, much better built tailings pond?
I have started a petition. Sign and share it so that those who care can be counted. Government needs to know we care. If we sleep through this, they will notice and I doubt they will learn not to do this again. Let me know what you think can be done. I already know how bad it is, now I want to know how this can be cleaned up.