Opinion: A letter from the future on Site C

Peace River photo courtesy of Rita Wong

Editor's note: This story is fictional and set 100 years in the future.

September 17, 2117

My dearest granddaughter, 

Your mother and I picked our first batch of carrots today. They are crisp and sweet, fresh as the good organic soil in this rich Peace River valley. Our yellow watermelons were plump and plentiful this summer. And the beans! Such an amazing crop, we are so proud and joyful to be able to feed our beautiful produce to all the folks in Northern B.C. The beets and potatoes will be harvested soon; good nourishing food for the coming winter. I ran into Janice at the hardware store the other day. She told me that the West Moberly First Nation has added three more greenhouses. They’re also sending medicine plants and trees to the regions hit by extreme climate surges because this will help to heal the land. And this has made us all richer in ways beyond the dollar. 

It’s hard to believe that a little over a 100 years ago, when my own grandmother was a teenager, the government had been on the verge of building a dam in this very place. Site C, they were calling it. 

History is not just a story from the past—it’s a crucial part of the present. Because what’s happened back then has shaped where and what we are now. And this also shapes the future that lies before us. It frightens me to think how easy it could been for everything to turn out differently. 

I’m probably saying things you already know; you’re studying history, after all. But you’ve asked me to tell you everything I know about what happened with Site C dam.

For a while the project almost went ahead. Many people were given misleading or partial information, made to think that all of the money already spent in design, razing the land to start construction, would be money “spent for nothing” unless the project hit completion.

But this was a way of thinking that did not even begin to consider the worth of clean flowing waters, or intact ecosystems, or the huge amount of wealth in protecting carbon sinks. It was hard for many people to imagine such things as riches if they couldn’t see it as big numbers on a spreadsheet. But a growing number of people began thinking more seriously about ecological wealth as the base measure instead of endless economic expansion. An awareness that ecology and economy are not two things in conflict, but kin who are related and need to take care of each other. 

And that without a healthy planet and clean waterways, we are all lost. 

Back then, cultural knowledges, sacred sites, and our relations with the plant and animal people were not considered important by many people. It may sound preposterous to us now— but not so long ago this is what too many people believed, and this kind of thinking was what led to mass extinctions during the height of the Anthropocene. 

We scarcely made it. The long-term effects of climate destabilization are still playing out on our planet. The frequent storms and erratic weather make it challenging to grow these life-sustaining crops. 

The dam wasn’t only about economics and the environment— it was also a keystone moment in the shifting relations with Indigenous peoples. When B.C. terminated the project, it was the first meaningful step forward in reconciliation and also an action that finally affirmed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

People need to eat. The building of the Site C Dam was a project that would have created a lot of short-term jobs. But when they chose to stop the dam, it opened up the way for other kinds of jobs—remediation positions, conservation, and renewable energy jobs like solar and wind energy. These jobs lasted longer than the one-off building of the dam. Many of these jobs still employ people today. 

A society does not change suddenly. But there comes a time when a society must change. In the early part of third millennium intense climate change was melting the polar caps. Extreme storms, extended droughts, and mass migrations because of the effects of global warming was causing much damage, starvation, and unrest all over the planet. 15,000 scientists from 184 countries worldwide signed a letter of warning we were on the road to Earth’s destruction. It became urgently clear that no one saviour was going to make things right, that no single technology was going to “fix” what was wrong. 

It was a time for every person to shift the way they thought about what was a “normal” life.  

The shift in thinking was the first step toward a shift in doing. As extraction models of doing business became obsolete, there have been enormous advances in understanding the relational workings of global climate and biome health as being enriched and strengthened by every living creature on this planet. Led by the traditional knowledge keepers of this land, Indigenous philosophy and sciences are expanding the ways we think; how we live with the land, water, plant and animal kin. How we live with each other. 

Granddaughter, I look to you now, as you move forward toward a future that holds far more possibilities than my own grandmother could have ever imagined. I thank you for asking me about the past. I thank you for your curiosity, and your caring. Know that your ancestors support you.

And you carry us with you into the beautiful unknown future.  

 Hiromi Goto is a writer and mentor at The Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is working to decolonize her relationship to the land. She is most grateful to be living on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territories.

Rita Wong is a poet-scholar who has written several books of poetry. She has also co-edited, with Dorothy Christian, an anthology entitled Downstream: Reimagining Water (Wilfrid Laurier University Press). She lives, works and strives for water justice on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh First Nations.

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