19th Century Manifest Destiny Policy Continues to Inflict Harm on Indigenous People

Manifest Destiny continues to inflict harm on indigenous peoples. The latest example comes from a story in Indian Country Today, which reports on the 1872 General Mining Act and how it could allow a Canadian mining company to poison the waters in the traditional territory of the Tinglit people of Alaska. According to the story, as part of the U.S. government’s 19th Century push for western expansion, it encouraged pick-and-shovel miners to go west, stake claims, and develop new outposts and communities.

As an incentive, the General Mining Act of 1872 was passed, allowing these miners to search for deposits on public land, and if they discovered one, gave them the land it was in for only a small fee and without restrictions. The mining act gave mining the highest priority for the use of public land, that was, in essence, a form of “finders keepers.”

That law never envisioned the industrial scale mining of the 21st Century. The toxic chemicals mining companies use to extract minerals today — and the resulting tailing ponds — are disastrous for the environment and the people who depend on it for sustenance.

Fast forward, and the Alaska’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved an exploratory mining permit for Constantine Metal Resources, a Canadian firm. The mining will take place near the last Chilkat Tlingit village in Alaska’s northern panhandle. The BLM approved the permit without consulting with indigenous communities, the story said.

The Tlingit depend on fishing, hunting, and foraging to survive.  As the article says:

Nothing in the [1872 General Mining] act protects groundwater from seepage or runoff from mines, for example. And since mining has preference over all other uses of public land, mining companies use the law as a statutory shield that protects them when environmental groups sue.

The current hope for the Tlingit people is lawsuits and legislation.

Members of Congress have introduced the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 (H.R. 2579) and its Senate version, the Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2019 (S. 1386). They would “remove the free ride given to mining companies by the General Mining Act of 1872,” the article says.

A press release from EarthJustice says several groups are suing the Alaska BLM to stop the project:

Represented by Earthjustice, the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), Lynn Canal Conservation, and Rivers Without Borders argue that BLM’s approval of a mining exploration plan for Constantine Metal Resources, Ltd., violates federal law by refusing to consider in any way the impacts of potential mine development on the sensitive watershed.

The press release cites Kimberley Strong, Tribal Council President of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan:

“The Village of Klukwan is home to about 100 people and sits on the bank of the Chilkat River. The river has been the heart of our community for longer than recorded time, but it faces one major threat: the massive, dangerous mine Constantine Metal Resources wants to build upstream from our homes. The river feeds us financially, culturally, spiritually and literally. This mine threatens to wipe us off the map. It is not the question of whether the mine will release pollution. It is a question of when. A foreign company’s profits should not mean more than my people’s survival.”

Click on the links above for the full story.

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