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Ktunaxa Nation calls for meetings with Canada, U.S. to address Kootenay watershed pollution

Koocanusa Reservoir. Robyn Duncan file.

The Ktunaxa Nation is calling for a meeting with Canadian and U.S. governments after both sides fell short of a summer deadline for reaching an “agreement-in-principle” to reduce and mitigate water pollution concerns in the Kootenay watershed.

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden committed to make progress on the issue following a bilateral meeting in March.

There hasn’t been any concrete action to address those issues, however, particularly on the Canadian side.

“There has not been a single multi-government meeting to discuss solutions,” said Kathryn Teneese, Chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, in a press release.

“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 Cranbrook Townsman has reached out to Global Affairs Canada for a response to Ktunaxa Nation concerns.

Following a lack of engagement after the commitment from Trudeau and Biden, the Ktunaxa Nation says it submitted a proposal with their own solutions to the Canadian government in July.

That proposal included a two pronged approach utilizing an International Joint Commission, an entity created out of the century-old International Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the U.S. that investigates transboundary water issues and recommends non-binding solutions.

The second prong includes implementing a Ktunaxa-federal action plan that gives all Ktunaxa governments a seat at the table with Canada and the U.S. to find solutions to restoring the waters and ensuring effective regulation and management.

The Canadian federal government has been hesitant to sign on to the IJC process, swayed apparently in part by lobbying from the B.C. government, according to correspondence obtained through Freedom of Information disclosure last year.

However, the province recently reversed its position, proposing a role for the IJC as a neutral third party, contingent on a recognition of B.C.’s regulatory authority.

“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 Kootenay 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.”

The Ktunaxa Nation Council has been calling for a reference to the IJC for over a decade.

“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,” said ʔaq̓anqmi Vice-Chairman Gary Aitken, Jr. “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.”

The Ktunaxa Nation is asking Canada and the United States to 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 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,” said Aitken, Jr. ” 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 Kootenay watershed.”

Wildsight, a Kootenay-based organization dedicated to environmental conservation and education, echoed the call from the Ktunaxa Nation Council.

“Wildsight stands with the Ktunaxa Nation and their right to engage in decision-making regarding the cross-border pollution problem in the Elk and Kootenay watersheds,” said the organization, in a statement.

“After the U.S and Canadian governments promised to reach an agreement in principle by the end of summer 2023, we have seen no progress made and no meaningful engagement has taken place with the Ktunaxa Nation on this water pollution crisis. This is unacceptable and must be rectified immediately.

“The time for action is now.”

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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