August 7, 2014 9:31 pm

Aboriginal leaders say Mount Polley tailings pond breach is a ‘game changer’

WATCH ABOVE: First Nation groups blame Imperial Metals and the B.C. government equally for the disaster and says the Mount Polley mine will not reopen without their approval. Jas Johal reports.

VANCOUVER – The Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach is not only an environmental and economic disaster, but also a cultural one for aboriginal people.

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The spill impacts a region known for its salmon run and medicinal plants.

“I was thinking that it feels like there’s a death in our community because that’s what we do, this is what we do when we lose something so important to us,” said one First Nations resident, speaking in Likely on Thursday.

Some aboriginal leaders met with officials from Imperial Metals who agreed to give them a helicopter tour of the region.

They are angry at both the mining firm and the B.C. government.

“I really feel that this mine and the government must be held fully accountable for this disaster,” said chief Anne Louie from the Williams Lake band.

“I would go as far as asking for an independent inquiry into this event because it’s catastrophic.”

Leaders say the breach could have been avoided as there was a lack of enforcement from the provincial government. They do not want the mine to open again, even though there are 300 jobs in jeopardy.

“This mine alone will have to ask for permits from us,” said Louie. “I can’t see any chief saying ‘OK we’ll give you a permit’. Not going to happen.”

Premier Christy Clark has pushed a natural resource development agenda since becoming premier, but aboriginal leaders say this week’s spill has changed everything.

“Governments, not just in B.C. and Canada, have to strengthen the mining laws,” said chief Bev Sellers with the Soda Creek band. “They’re too lax right now. It’s too easy to get around them and this is definitely a game changer.”

For many leaders, the government failed in its role as a regulator and they vow future projects will come under greater scrutiny.

- With files from Jas Johal

© Shaw Media, 2014

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