My name is Hana Bernardová and I come from the Czech Republic, in the heart of Europe. I used to be a landscape architect, today I work as a translator, interpreter and I also cooperate with an organization called Foundation for Soil that aims to protect the agricultural land in Czechia. I am a passionate gardener and I love this Earth.
In spring 2012, after 8 years, I left my job in the area of urban planning for the Municipality of Brno and I knew I needed a long holiday! I decided to go to British Columbia in Canada. Actually, it wasn’t a real decision, it was more a knowing. So I found myself on a road/hitchhiking/ridesharing/wwoofing trip that resulted to take eight months. My last destination was a little town called Smithers in Bulkley Valley in Northern British Columbia. I was there in winter time and spent there almost three months getting to know the local community, First Nations’ people, local food systems, beautiful mountains and much more.
During that time I learned about a celebration of the Sacred Headwaters in Terrace and I went there. On the 3rd of February 2013 I found myself in a big community center full of people from the whole area and farther. First Nations in their traditional regalia and white people, all together, were celebrating a victory: “On December 18, 2012, after communities and residents stood united for nearly a decade in defence of the birthplace of their rivers, the B.C. government, Shell and the Tahltan nation announced there will be no coalbed methane drilling in the Sacred Headwaters!”
The Sacred Headwaters is the birthplace of three of the greatest Northwest’s wild salmon rivers: the Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine. This area of pristine natural beauty and wildlife is home and critically important to the local indigenous people, the Tahltan. It is unique in the world for its biological diversity (it has been compared to the Serengeti Plains of Africa).
In 2004, Shell Canada (now Royal Dutch Shell) was awarded a 400,000 hectare tenure to develop coalbed methane gas in the Sacred Headwaters. Coalbed methane extraction uses a process called fracking that would represent a major threat to wild salmon habitat and both to surface and ground-waters. Coalbed methane has never been developed anywhere in the world in a wild salmon watershed. This resulted in massive opposition throughout the region (involving nine First Nations governments, five municipal governments, and two regional districts representing communities in and downstream of the proposed project) that included rallies, public meetings, concerts, swim, blockades by Tahltan elders, court cases etc.
I met a woman – Ali Howard from Smithers – who became the first person ever to swim the entire 610 km of the Skeena River in summer 2009 which brought national and international attention to Shell’s plans. In 2011, the guitarist, Rachelle van Zanten released music video title My Country in honour of the Elders fight to protect the Sacred Headwaters (see the link below). When I saw it and listened to it I cried. Wade Davis wrote a book about the protection of the Sacred Headwaters. The protests against Shell’s activities in this area were supported also by citizens from Holland and other countries. And much more…
During the celebration that took a whole afternoon I witnessed a beautiful ceremony of “Mixing of waters” held by the First Nations people in prayer for the protection of all waters. During this ceremony anyone could bring water from their place (river, lake, sea…) and all waters were poured together as a symbol of unity. At night, the celebration continued with a concert and a dance party in a local club. And again, first nations and white people celebrated together. Knowing a little bit about the burdened history between the two and ongoing difficult relations, it was touching to see how this common cause and shared love and care for a place considered as home united people in spite of their history.
That was in early 2013. When I sat down to write this story after almost 6 years I started to look for information about what is happening in the Sacred Headwaters now. I learned that there were more blockades in August 2013 after the newly elected BC Liberal Government gave a permit to the mining company Fortune Minerals to continue coal exploration activities on Mt. Klappan, a sacred and vital hunting ground on Tahltan territory in Sacred Headwaters. The coal bed deposit under Mt. Klappan has been described as one of the largest coal beds remaining on Earth. The company has a plan to develop a massive 4,000 hectare open-pit coal mine. Although the blockades were successful this is not the end of the story. The local community is now waitingfor the government to approve the Klappan Plan which was created jointly with Tahltan leadership and which would give a twenty-year moratorium against industrial development. And as the Executive Director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, Shannon McPhail, says: “In that time, we are working on making it permanent.” Good luck!
May the Sacred Headwaters and all the headwaters be protected. Huge gratitude to all who care and put their time and energy tosteward their lands, mountains, rivers, lakes…