Communities in Northern BC celebrate victory to protect Sacred Headwaters

Annita McPhee (left), President of Tahltan Central Council, at the Sacred Headwaters celebration. Photo © Nikki Skuce
Annita McPhee (left), President of Tahltan Central Council, at the Sacred Headwaters celebration. Photo © Nikki Skuce

By Karen Tam Wu, Senior Conservation Campaigner, ForestEthics Advocacy

An eagle was perched in the tall branches of one of the elegant cottonwood trees along BC’s Skeena River.

On a grey and misty day in early February, First Nations and other environmental and community groups from along the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers gathered at Kitsum-Kalum Hall in Terrace, BC, at the confluence of the Kalum and Skeena Rivers in the province’s northwest.

The site where these two rivers meet was an apt location to celebrate the coming together of First Nations and other communities, who were gathered there to celebrate a seemingly impossible feat: getting Shell to withdraw its plans to frack for natural gas the Sacred Headwaters, and ensuring a permanent ban on gas development in the region — forever.

Annita McPhee, President of the Tahltan Central Council, announced, “This is the largest protection the Tahltan Nation has ever achieved, and we kicked out the second largest corporation in the world!”

Several hundred of us packed into the Hall, to bear witness, through songs, dances, speeches, and a feast, to what we can accomplish when we all stand together.

“United, we are stronger with one voice,” said Iskut Band Chief, Marie Quock.

It was also an opportunity to acknowledge everyone who came together to win this victory. The Warriors, the brave men and women, mostly elders, who were arrested for blockading the road, preventing trucks and equipment getting into the Sacred Headwaters; the community members who went to the blockades to keep the fires burning, literally, and brought food, conversation and support to those blockading.

“I don’t consider myself an arrestee. I’m a Warrior!” cried one of the elders honoured for her courage.

The hall erupted into a standing ovation when Simon, a Wet’suwet’en man who was arrested, stood in solidarity with his Tahltan neighbours, and demonstrated that what happens upstream in the headwaters of three salmon-bearing rivers, would impact those living downstream.

“We respect our neighbours, and know what we do affects others downstream,” Chief Namox of the Wet’suwet’en declared. Dempsey Bob, Tahltan elder and reknown artist said, “The salmon belongs to all of us.”

In a very powerful ceremony, water from the various lakes, creeks, streams and rivers that connect all the communities represented that day were poured and mixed into a cedar bentwood box. The ceremony symoblised the unity of the First Nations and communities who have come together to stand up for their land, clean water and wild salmon.

“We are idle no more! A giant has been awakened!” an elder affirmed.

Nathan Cullen, Member of Parliament, spoke before dinner, and said he would take a bottle of the mixed waters back to Parliament, and say in the House of Commons, “There is a better way Mr. Harper.”

The echoes of the impassioned words, the dances, the drumming and songs from that day still ring in my ears and my heart today. I hope it will continue to resonate for all the First Nations and communities, and for all of us who are working hard to win more victories for the planet.

This story is the culmination of a long but ultimately fruitful effort to protect the Sacred Headwaters from industrial development. Visit the ForestEthics’ website to learn more about the Sacred Headwaters, as well as the back story that led up to this celebration.