Sacred Headwaters victory: Tamo Campos
David Suzuki's grandson Tamo Campos releases a documentary film called "Northern Grease" about Tahtlan opposition to a coal mine in the Sacred Headwaters
The B.C. government’s purchase last week of $18.3 million worth of coal licenses in the Tl’abona or Sacred Headwaters created jubilation along downstream communities.
The wilderness paradise, known as the Klappan, is home to three of the largest undammed salmon bearing rivers in North America the Stikine Naas and Skeena, and was under threat by a controversial Fortune Minerals coal project.
During the summer of 2013, I was extremely fortunate to journey to Tahltan territory in the province’s remote northwest to witness the dramatic protests that made this month’s victory against that mine possible.
Our collective, Beyond Boarding produced a documentary called "Northern Grease" about our six weeks with the Klabona Keepers - the Elder women’s group and their families who stopped the coal mine. Here is a 15-minute snippet:
Portion of the Northern Grease film by Beyond Boarding
Arriving in our school bus, we went to "Beauty Camp" — eating wild meat, learning about the history of the land, taking over company drill equipment, and dealing with daily police confrontations. The police camp had a helicopter, a plane, eight ATVs and six-wall tents. Their actions in the Sacred Headwaters sure shone a light on the RCMP’s priorities.
I saw the sacrifice and dedication the Klabona Keepers and their families have made over the past decade. In a world where human rights and environmental victories seem hard to come by, the Klabona Keepers showed me, they were an exception.
Their track record in the past decade speaks for itself; they’ve evicted Royal Dutch Shell, Fortune Minerals, Firesteel and overhunting in the Tl’abona (more recently known as the Sacred Headwaters).
Lead by their Elders and fuelled by a responsibility to land and future generations, they have stood against the colonial laws and courts, a government that won’t recognize unceded indigenous territories and at times armed police officers.
Tahltan celebrating a victory against a mining project on Mt. Klappan in the Sacred Headwaters region of northwest B.C. in 2013. Photo by Jim Bourquin.
Although many will take credit for the protection and stewardship of the Sacred Headwaters; it’s these Elders and their families we should all be thanking. Without them breaking provincial laws and standing up against the colonial state, the government would have continued with the status quo of industrial expansion and dispossession of traditional hunting grounds.
These families have stood on blockades during snow and rain storms, been taken to jail, faced legal charges and sacrificed economic benefits in an area where jobs are hard to come by.
It is not a romantic victory but one filled with sacrifice, dedication and a united commitment to uphold ancestral responsibilities.
As government and the Tahltan Central Council are set to move forwards in discussion about management plans, it is those Elders and families called the Klabona Keepers from Iskut that need to have a voice in this. They were the ones that brought our attention to the area while living, camping, and subsisting from the Klappan. They should have the final say in any decision.
These are the true heroes that fought so that this land could remain sacred, to us all.