Words By Tamo Campos
After two months of summer work to get out of Beyond Boarding debt, we’re back in Northern BC.
Free from the grasps of summer jobs (tree planting and ice cream making), the boys make it to the Sacred
The first stop, Iskut, a town in which we didn’t meet a soul in the winter, has become a buzz. We’ve coincidentally timed being here with the Sacred Headwaters Music Festival and the one-year anniversary of Royal Dutch Shell pulling out of the Sacred Headwaters.
The Sacred headwater lies in Tahltan First Nation’s territory in North Western BC. It’s an area of vast wilderness and encompasses three of the largest undammed salmon bearing rivers in North America.
Our grease bus got a lot of attention while the country music went steady for three days. All the dancing was merely a build up for what was to follow. We left the music festival to six and a half weeks in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters, camped out at the Tahltan protest camp named Beauty Camp. A completely unplanned detour to the Northern BC project, yet one that had me reflecting on it as six of the most incredible weeks of my life.
The threat of Shell’s coal-bed-methane project left the headwaters last year and the BC government set up an oil and gas moratorium for the area, yet it was far from being protected. In fact, while our Liberal government used this moratorium as part of their green credentials during the spring election, they simultaneously fast tracked an open pit coal-mining project by Fortune Minerals. In the exact same area! The project would level the sacred mountain of Klappan and have an impact of roughly 40 square kilometres.
Frustrated by the inaction of our government and the company’s refusal to leave, the Tahltan set up a protest camp which ranged from 15 to 60 people at Beauty Camp.
The six week protest, included giving the mining company an eviction notice, drumming every second day down at camp, taking over two of Fortune Minerals environmental assessment drills (that were leaking cuttings into fish bearing steams) and occupying the main camp to prevent their employees from working.
The entire event was not without it’s share of controversial moments. For starters the town of Iskut has asked for a police detachment for over a decade with no results. Within 24 hours of the protest camp being set up, far from any detachments, a police force of 10 cops, helicopters and quads had set up camp. For six weeks. Without a crime being committed, the cops escorted Fortune Minerals around, helicoptered in bottled water and build a log sauna during their (taxpayer) paid 6 week holiday.
In the end, Fortune Minerals pulled out of Klappan Mountain before they had done their summer’s work. A huge part of the victory coming from the company’s unwillingness to take the matter to court because of the aboriginal rights and titles the Tahltan have on their unceeded land.
What struck me throughout the experience was the intergenerational dynamics of the camp. The camp consisted of all ages and people; kids, teachers, elders, drillers and band council members. Everyone understood what was at stake if the coal mine were to go through..
With huge short-term economic benefits offered at their doorstep the Tahltan refused to step down from protecting what they valued most; their traditions, their land and their water. It was a powerful message. To see first hand, people losing their jobs standing up to save the very ecology that support us on this planet. To have such warriors in our province, standing up for a sacred area was a lesson we can all learn from.
As our time in the headwaters came to an end and we began to head into oil and gas country of Eastern BC, I’ve had a lot of time reflecting on my time in the headwaters.
It’s hard not to see the common trends in the solutions we’ve come across this trip. Whether it’s off the grid-farms in Hazelton, local snowboarders foraging their own foods in Prince Rupert, a teacher taking their kids out on garbage clean ups in Kitimat or protests camps in the Sacred Headwaters, they all have a similarity.
They all consist of people who have broken away from the mainstream cultural habits that glorify greed and have become driven instead by compassion and a willingness to protect our water, air and land. They’re breaking the cultural norms and living in harmony with the natural world rather than exploiting it.
As we cruise through Fort Nelson knowing the natural gas industry alone uses 11B L’s of fresh water a year I can’t help but smile, knowing that this isn’t the only way we have to be in BC
For our crew, taking over drills was a summer time rush that rivaled winter cliff jumps in the mountains. Yet that rush was such a small part of the experience at Beauty Camp. The hospitality the Tahltan showed us was like nothing I’d ever been a part of. From day one we were treated like family and fed like kings. Our only gift back was to film all the meetings and keep their website updated with photos, while the gifts they gave us were so much bigger. During the day, Tahltan locals Wayne and Peter would show us how to hunt and skin caribou, moose, groundhog and porcupine. They taught us how to respect the animal while skinning it and to share all the meat with everyone at camp. During the evenings everyone at camp would tell us stories by the fire and in the daytime we even got to play their traditional game of stick gambling. (A game that has been played for thousands of years)