Seven black bears, a two-hour sunset, and innumerable splats of bugs that had met an unfortunate end with our windshield later, my collaborator Jason and I pulled into Bell II for the evening.
We had spent the morning getting last minute provisions in Smithers, British Columbia, and doing a photo shoot for an ad. We then headed north towards the Kispiox Valley and beyond, towards the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine Rivers. We would be crossing each of these rivers several times at various points on our journey this week to film a short on the Sacred Headwaters.
Our first stop was in Hazelton, on the Skeena River, at the headquarters of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC) – our greatest ally in the fight to save the Sacred Headwaters from industrial development – to pick up a stove and cooler. Not only do we share campaign strategies, but also we share camping gear.
We headed up the Kispiox Valley, one of the first communities along the lower Skeena River, to visit Roy Henry Vickers at his home on the Skeena. Roy is a renowned artist and a member of the Order of Canada, national recognition of outstanding contributors to society. He told us the story of the We-get First Nation, who travelled from Haida Gwaii (an archipelago on the North Coast of British Columbia), to the head of the Nass River, to bring light to the rest of the world, putting salmon in the rivers along the way.
Roy told us about growing up on the Skeena River until he was 16, and how he finally made his way back to the Skeena 45 years later. “Once you drink the water from the Skeena, you’ll always come back,” he said.
As we sat talking, two came rafts down the Skeena right up to Roy’s yard. On board were a dozen girls with staff from SWCC. Shannon McPhail, SWCC’s executive director, told us the purpose of getting youth out on the river is to impart some rafting skills, while connecting them to the river. On development in the Sacred Headwaters, Shannon said, “No more salmon means no more economy.”