David Suzuki: Tahltan's Sacred Headwaters defence has deep roots

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      Few places on our planet have been unaffected by humans. Satellite images taken from hundreds of kilometres above Earth reveal a world irrevocably changed by our land use over just the past few decades.

      From Arctic tundra to primeval rainforest to arid desert, our natural world is being fragmented by ever-expanding towns and cities, roads, transmission lines, and pipelines, and pockmarked by mines, pump jacks, flare stacks and other infrastructure used to drill, frack and strip-mine fossil fuels.

      Areas that have remained relatively free of industrial development have thus taken on a special significance. They’re places where a wide range of animals feed, breed and roam in large numbers, where rivers run wild and indigenous people fish, hunt and practise traditional ways.

      In Canada, they include awe-inspiring landscapes like the boreal forests of Pimachiowin Aki in northern Manitoba, Gwaii Haanas off Canada’s West Coast and the Sacred Headwaters (called Tl’abāne in the local Tahltan language and pronounced Klabona in English) in northwestern B.C. The latter is the birthplace of three of the continent’s great salmon rivers, the Stikine, Skeena and Nass.

      The rivers of the Sacred Headwaters originate close together, as small streams percolating from beneath rich meadows on the high plateau. Fed by waters from the surrounding mountains and valleys, they drive toward the North Pacific Ocean with great force, shooting through gorges that rival the Grand Canyon in grandeur and cascading over breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls.

      Unblemished by dams, clearcuts or mines, and with an abundance of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, caribou and the world’s largest population of stone sheep, the Sacred Headwaters has been called the Serengeti of the North.

      Places like the Sacred Headwaters owe their continued existence to indigenous peoples who have lived there for thousands of years, and who have consistently resisted incursions of industrial development that would harm their ancestral landsoften putting their own bodies on the line to block trucks, earth-movers and drilling equipment.

      But while Pimachiowin Aki and Gwaii Haanas are now thankfully protected under law, the Sacred Headwaters is not. It remains at risk from a multitude of proposed mines, railways, transmission lines and other projects that will eviscerate the landscape if approved.

      The projects include a 44-square-kilometre open-pit anthracite coal mine that would level Klappan Mountain, at the very heart of the Sacred Headwaters. The mine, proposed by Fortune Minerals, a small company based in London, Ontario, would devastate land the B.C. government led the Tahltan Nation to believe would be protected.

      The Tahltan are not opposed to all industrial development, and have partnered with many resource companies to generate jobs and economic opportunities for their community. But they believe some places, like the Sacred Headwaters, are too important to be developed and should be safeguarded. The Tahltan earlier stopped one of the world’s largest corporations, Royal Dutch Shell, from fracking the area for coalbed methane gas. On August 16, they issued Fortune Minerals an immediate eviction notice.

      As I write, the Tahltan, including elders who were arrested while keeping Fortune Minerals out of the Sacred Headwaters a decade ago, have gathered at their usual hunting camp on Klappan Mountain to peacefully oppose the mining company, which began test-drilling earlier this summer, with the government’s approval.

      Tahltan First Nation members have been joined by non-aboriginal allies, such as the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. With the support of the wider community, which has brought food, water, firewood and other essentials, the Tahltan are vowing to stay on Mount Klappan until Fortune Minerals leaves the Sacred Headwaters for good.

      American poet Gary Snyder has been quoted as saying, “The most radical thing you can do is stay home.” The phrase has come to have many associations, most notably to describe a sense of place and the profound power of communities coming together to protect it.

      Snyder’s poetic description of what is a radical is an appropriate portrayal of the Tahltan’s peaceful defence of their Sacred Headwaters home. The word “radical” originates with the Latin for “root” or “having roots”. The Tahltan’s presence in the Sacred Headwaters is ancient and deeply rooted and will not easily be removed.

      Comments

      8 Comments

      Michael Puttonen

      Sep 17, 2013 at 7:02pm

      "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. therefore [individual citizens] have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring."
      - Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal, 1950

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      John p Nole sprit of klabona

      Sep 17, 2013 at 11:33pm

      it's a blessing having you living in our home meany thanks for lending us your grandson his is a blessing to us once again meany thanks

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      BC mining investor

      Sep 18, 2013 at 9:15am

      Sept. 17, 2013

      Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
      Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas
      Ministry of Environment

      Statement regarding mediator appointment at Mt Klappan

      VICTORIA – John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, and Mary Polak, Minister of Environment gave the following statement regarding the government’s decision to appoint a mediator to help address the protest of the Arctos Anthracite coal project near Mt. Klappan.

      “Government is supportive of the legal right of any company who has worked within our laws, regulations and processes to be able to safely perform work within the scope of their Notice of Work and subsequently the Mines Act permit.

      “Government has immediately appointed Geoff Freer as an intermediary to facilitate dialogue between the Tahltan First Nations and Fortune Minerals in an effort to allow the Arctos project to proceed. Our government is committed to ensure there is no risk to water and other important environmental values.

      “Our government has a long-standing working relationship with the Tahltan including a Strategic Engagement Agreement. Under that agreement a level 4 working group was established on Sept. 11, 2013. We will continue to participate with the Tahltan in that existing working group to fulfill our commitment to explore protection in the rest of the Klappan.”

      Contact:

      Media Relations

      Ministry of Environment

      250 953-3834

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      BC mining investor

      Sep 18, 2013 at 9:51am

      VICTORIA - John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, and Mary Polak, Minister of Environment gave the following statement regarding the government's decision to appoint a mediator to help address the protest of the Arctos Anthracite coal project near Mt. Klappan.

      "Government is supportive of the legal right of any company who has worked within our laws, regulations and processes to be able to safely perform work within the scope of their Notice of Work and subsequently the Mines Act permit.

      "Government has immediately appointed Geoff Freer as an intermediary to facilitate dialogue between the Tahltan First Nations and Fortune Minerals in an effort to allow the Arctos project to proceed. Our government is committed to ensure there is no risk to water and other important environmental values.

      "Our government has a long-standing working relationship with the Tahltan including a Strategic Engagement Agreement. Under that agreement a level 4 working group was established on Sept. 11, 2013. We will continue to participate with the Tahltan in that existing working group to fulfill our commitment to explore protection in the rest of the Klappan."

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      Alan Layton

      Sep 18, 2013 at 12:15pm

      "Government is supportive of the legal right of any company who has worked within our laws, regulations and processes to be able to safely perform work within the scope of their Notice of Work and subsequently the Mines Act permit."

      Time to change our laws it seems, and also time to get people in government who can come up with creative ways to make money, other than stripping the earth bare. This area must be turned in to a protected park.

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      Peter Jakesta

      Sep 18, 2013 at 2:28pm

      Tahltan land has not been treatied or land claim agreements have not been settled so what ever permits that have been issued by the province are null and void, bottom line!

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      fact-checker

      Sep 18, 2013 at 4:01pm

      Pimachiowin Aki is in eastern Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, representing a portion of the traditional territories of five First Nations.
      www.pimachiowinaki.org

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      Sandra Smith Australian

      Sep 18, 2013 at 8:28pm

      David Suzuki, you are not aware of Australian Policies regarding our coal. Under the previous Labor Goverment, they chose to sell our black/brown coal to China, Indian & any country that would buy this "supposed pollutant' It was Ok for 1 billion Chinese & other countries to allegedly pollute our world, and yet just 26 million Australians were discouraged by a very big price increase not to use coal fired energy. Our Pensioners who couldnt keep warm, had to use blankets because they couldnt afford electricity. You have no idea what is happening in Australia. We have become uncompetative in the mining industry. We were a laughing stock - we voted by a very big majority TO END THE CARBON TAX, a tax that does nothing to cool the planet. We also know our world's history of warming and cooling and also that we cannot control what the earth does below its surface let alone above the surface. Your 'song' just doesn't make any sense. we have weather records going back and floods and drought in cycles that have always been. The sad part is that our young people who do not know our history, will believe you, and your stories.

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