Last night my coworker Jason and I camped in BC’s Sacred Headwaters. We were awoken in the middle of the night by gentle drops of rain. In the morning, we packed up our soggy gear and headed up the road to Telegraph Creek, another Tahltan First Nation community in the Stikine watershed.
The road to Telegraph Creek is unpaved and at times single lane and steep. At one point on the drive, the Stikine River and the Tuya River divide the road, which runs high along a ridge top. The road then drops steeply down to the river’s edge. I wanted to show Jason the confluence of the icy blue Tuya River with the silty-grey Tahltan River, which flows into the Stikine, overlooked by Raven in the rocks. Here, the Stikine has been a gathering place for all Tahltan in the summer, when they all come to fish for salmon.
In Telegraph, we found out that most of the elders were at Culture Camp with the youth from Telegraph this week. At this camp in the wilderness, the youth learn the traditions and customs of their ancestors, passed along by the elders.
The North draws all sorts of people together. Back at the motel in Dease Lake, another Tahltan community, I met a Canadian icon from my childhood, Rick Hansen. Rick was getting ready to embark on a fishing trip. I told him and his friends about our work to protect the Sacred Headwaters, and we talked about Rick’s work on sturgeon conservation. I gave Rick and his friends reading material for their trip - a copy of Wade Davis’ Sacred Headwaters, happy to share “the gospel” with other fish conservationists.
We tracked down Lillian Campbell in Dease Lake. Lillian is another Tahltan elder who had been arrested twice during the blockades of 2005 and 2006. For two summers, the Tahltan blocked Shell and Fortune Minerals’ access to the Sacred Headwaters and Mount Klappan, where the energy companies wanted to drill for gas and mine for coal.
When asked if she would stand on the road and blockade again, Lillian replies, “If I had to.” Lillian has a hearty laugh and a picture perfect smile. “If Shell went through, there would be nothing left. We want [the Sacred Headwaters] untouched of all development,” she tells us.
We travelled back to Iskut, to meet with Chief Marie Quock, and Councillor Jolene Louie. Marie described how the threat of development brought their communities together.
“We’re stronger together as a Nation. During the blockades, the communities were split. Then people started looking at all the development and realizing we should protect some places,” the Chief told us. “We don’t want any gas, coal mining, or any mining there.”
Jolene Louie has been going to the Sacred Headwaters since she was two weeks old. “I learned to walk up there,” she recalled. “Poisoned. There won’t be any fish. That’s what we live on, that’s what we eat. That’s what brings us together.” Jolene foretells what would happen if Shell’s project goes through.
Yesterday, Jason and I had stood at the confluences of the icy blue Tuya River with the silty-grey Tahltan River, which flow into the Stikine, all overlooked by Raven in the rocks. Here, the Stikine has been a gathering place for all Tahltan in the summer, when they come to fish for salmon.
Just down the highway from Iskut is Ealue Lake, the gateway to the Sacred Headwaters, where Wade Davis spends his summers. Wade travels all around the world as the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and says it is the wild nature of the region that keeps bringing him back.
“The sense of the wild is why people are so concerned about the tsunami of development in this region.” Wade fears that, “this place will be compromised before most Canadians even know it exists.”
We met with Alice Maitland, a lifelong resident of Hazelton, on the Skeena River. Alice is now the mayor of the Village of Hazelton. Hazelton joined along with all other levels of government in the Northwest to sign a resolution opposing coalbed methane development in the Sacred Headwaters. In Alice’s opinion, “It’s too big a risk. We depend on the rivers for our fish and our water. Northwest BC is one of the last untouched jewels left.”
Wade’s and Alice’s words echoed within us. Armed with the stories and perspectives people had shared with us during our brief trip to the region, Jason and I feel an even stronger sense of urgency to share with others what we had seen and heard.