The Taku also has profound cultural value to our Tlingit people. Its waters have always been life giving. The Taku is an integral part of our identity. In fact our indigenous relatives on the BC side of the border are known as the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. The Tlingit people of the Douglas Indian Association, on the Alaska side, also call the Taku home.
The Tulsequah River is a major tributary of the Taku, the last BC River to join the main stem Taku before it pours over the border into Alaska. The most important fisheries habitat in the entire Taku watershed, a maze of winding channels and backwaters ideal for salmon spawning and rearing, is just below the Taku-Tulsequah juncture, straddling the international border. Virtually all of some two million salmon leaving or returning to the Taku system each year pass through these waters.
Small scale mining occurred in the Tulsequah Valley into the 1950s. Two abandoned underground mine sites have been bleeding acid and metals into the Tulsequah River ever since. Fortunately the pollution is not sufficient to cause major environmental impacts, but it’s a vivid reminder that the sulfide geology of the area, if disturbed by mining, will generate acid. Add frequent flooding to the mix, avalanches, plus seismic activity, and a big mine would be bound to create more pollution and disturbance diminishing salmon values. A tailings impoundment blow out could have catastrophic consequences.
Here is where Chieftain Metals has proposed the Tulsequah Chief mine. The gold and mixed metals project has most of its necessary BC permits, but the proponent only has a fraction of the money needed to initiate the project.
The remoteness of the Tulsequah Valley makes mining there particularly challenging. A few years ago Chieftain proposed introducing industrial barging to the lower Taku to facilitate its project. Alaska fishing organizations, the Douglas Indian Association, and conservation organizations objected, citing habitat damage barging would cause in the shallow river. When it became clear Alaska would not endorse the barging idea, Chieftain changed its approach, proposing construction of a haul road from the village of Atlin, BC, home of the Taku River Tlingit, to the Tulsequah Valley through 100 miles of wilderness. If Tulsequah Chief goes forward, additional mining proposals will follow, opening up the Taku watershed. If the Tulsequah project is stopped the entire watershed will remain secure.
Taku River Tlingits
In late 2012 the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, particularly concerned about a road through the heart of its traditional territory, passed a Joint Clan Mandate formally opposing the Tulsequah Chief mine proposal. Chieftain continued to make public statements that its proposal had First Nation support. But in December 2013 the Tlingit, represented by Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia challenging the validity of Chieftain’s Environmental Certificate, the fundamental permit for the proposal. Meanwhile Chieftain is faltering financially. That it is now being sued will make investors more wary. The targeted outreach of Rivers Without Borders to investors has been paying off, as Chieftain’s stock value falls.
The Douglas Indian Association (DIA) along with River Without Boarders (RWB) helped raise awareness of the Taku in support of the BC side Tlingit opposition. DIA and RWB hosted a one day boat trip from Juneau up into the mouth of the Taku, near the Taku Glacier, down to Taku Harbor. DIA invited several State, City and Federal agencies along with Tribal members and Tribal elders to attend the boat trip. We had a very good turnout of over a 100 people that attended the trip. We also invited a member of the Taku Tlingit First Nation to attend, who spoke of some of the mining issues on their behalf and shared that unity is the strongest way to fight these issues.
On the boat trip making several stops (see map) DIA shared the history of Douglas Island, Douglas village fires, Treadwell mine impacts, the historical tribal village, sacred site by Salisbury Point and Point Bishop. DIA also shared historical tlingit stories, held a memorial ceremony near “The Scar” rock for the loss of loved ones, preformed tlingit song and dance. DIA also shared sampling projects that were done in taku and transboundary issues that exist across the boarders to British Columbia and helped raise awareness of the mine issues in the Taku. We observed the gillnet opening, watched for our Tribal Presedent Clarence Butch Laiti who is a fisherman of the Taku, we viewed wildlife in their natrual habbitat such as Killer whales & Sea Lions, we allowed for an open mic session for guest to comment or share their history of the Taku, and we reconnected our people with the Taku.
The $3,000 from IEN-WMAN went toward the renting of a Allen Marine catameran tour boat for this effort. DIA did this same boat trip several years ago and was successful at it, but this time we emphasized more on the mine threat and cultrual history of DIA. One of our leaders, John Morris Sr., who was raised on the Taku and shared many stories of where he grew up. DIA also invited a photographer and journalists to accompany us. There are are two stories in the Juneau Empire and KTOO news paper that will be submitted along with this report. Many of the guest were very pleased with the boat trip and sent DIA thank you cards. DIA hopes to do this boat trip again in the future to help raise awarness of mining impacts and bring forth cultrual awarness of the Taku Inlet.