The Ktunaxa Nation calls for the U.S. and Canada to meet with the Nation immediately to address watershed pollution
Trudeau and Biden Strike Out, Missing Both the End-of-Summer Deadline and the Commitment to Work in Partnership with the Transboundary Ktunaxa Nation to Address Mining Pollution in the Kootenai/y Watershed
Submitted by the Ktunaxa Nation
The United States and Canada have failed to meet their summer deadline to reach an agreement in partnership with the Ktunaxa on how to address pollution in the Elk and Kootenai/y rivers, demonstrating the federal governments’ continued lack of commitment to address this serious pollution problem.
Ktunaxa leadership have been urging Canada and the U.S. to address water quality pollution in Ktunaxa homelands for over a decade. In March of this year, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden publicly committed to “reach an agreement in principle by this summer to reduce and mitigate the impacts of water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed in partnership with Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples, in order to protect the people and species that depend on this vital river system.” (Full statement available here.)
Yet, the end of summer has come and gone without any agreement, or any real progress, in working together. This, despite numerous opportunities and ample time for all eight governments to meet, including at the federal bilateral meeting in April, the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) transboundary mining conference in September, and even the federal bilateral meeting happening this week in Ottawa.
Ktunaxa were initially encouraged by President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau’s March commitment which acknowledged the need for a solution—developed and implemented in partnership with the Ktunaxa—for the Elk-Kootenai watershed. Yet this initial encouragement faltered as engagement with the federal governments—particularly Canada—following the statement’s release was nearly nonexistent, and a far cry from a “partnership.” The lack of engagement and collaboration led Ktunaxa leadership to convene in June to pen their own solution which was sent to federal governments in mid-July.
The Ktunaxa proposal includes a reference to the International Joint Commission (IJC), along with a Ktunaxa-Federal action plan. This “two-pronged approach” is based on (1) the need for an IJC-established Watershed Board to conduct an independent, transparent, and accountable scientific assessment of pollution in the watershed and perform ongoing monitoring, and (2) the parallel need for a governance plan that guarantees both federal governments and all six Ktunaxa governments an equal seat at the table to immediately begin to implement solutions, restore the waters, and ensure effective regulation and management of the watershed going forward. The Ktunaxa proposal aims to bridge the draft IJC reference put forward by the U.S. and the call for a governance table from Canada.
Yet, despite the fact that Canada has had proposals for an IJC reference from the Ktunaxa Nation, the U.S., and even British Columbia since mid-July, Ktunaxa did not receive even an acknowledgment of the proposal from Canada until September 21—one day before the end-of-summer deadline.
“We were encouraged that the U.S. and Canada committed to reaching an agreement—in partnership with the Ktunaxa—on the damaging pollution in the Kootenai/y watershed by this summer, and we were even more encouraged when British Columbia—a long holdout—indicated their support for an IJC reference in July,” said Tom McDonald, Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
“With B.C. on board, we now have all crucial governments in support of an IJC reference, except for Canada. We simply can’t understand what is holding Canada back and keeping them from honoring their promises to Indigenous peoples, the environment, and the International Boundary Waters Treaty,” McDonald continued.
Remarks made at a conference at the end of September by a Global Affairs Canada representative that “Canada knows that they are late with their homework” have spurred Ktunaxa Leadership to initiate a government-to-government-to-government meeting to be set in November.
“There has not been a single multi-government meeting to discuss solutions,” Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese said.
“While the United States has met regularly with the staff of the full transboundary Ktunaxa Nation, Canada has not done the same. And, there haven’t been any meetings between the U.S., Canada, and the Ktunaxa Nation all together, despite our repeated requests and numerous opportunities and ample time for that to occur.”
The Ktunaxa Nation invites Canada and the United States to immediately make good on their promise and meet with the governments of ʔakisq̓nuk; ʔaq̓am; Yaqan Nuʔkiy; Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡiʔit; Kupawiȼq̓nuk [Ksanka Band, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes]; and ʔaq̓anqmi [Kootenai Tribe of Idaho] and are initiating a meeting in the coming weeks.
“We must come to a solution before the end of the year — we were strung along in 2022, and then again in 2023 with a target of end of summer. The governments need to show that their deadlines, and their intent to meet them, are meaningful. We cannot accept any more broken promises. We have been asking for action on this issue for more than a decade, and we can’t wait any longer,” said ʔaq̓anqmi Vice-Chairman Gary Aitken, Jr.
“We thought the commitment to work in partnership with the Ktunaxa Nation meant that all eight governments would sit down together to reach an agreement, but nothing could be further from the truth. Since the U.S. and Canada are not able to set up a process for reaching agreement, the Nation has no choice but to set one up so that we can actually address the devastating pollution in the Kootenai/y watershed.”