Tracy Rector/Longhouse Media
The Heiltsuk First Nation is hosting 31 canoes from Pacific Northwest indigenous nations. That number was provided by the manager of the Paddle to Bella Bella Facebook page. Canoes arrived July 13; the week of cultural celebration continues through July 19.

Canoe Journey Message: Protect Our Fragile Environment

Richard Walker
7/17/14

En route to the territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation, pullers in the 2014 Canoe Journey traveled through territory so beautiful it will be impossible to forget: Rugged, forested coastlines; island-dotted straits and narrow, glacier-carved passages; through Johnstone Strait, home of the largest resident pod of orcas in the world, and along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world.

They also traveled waters that are increasingly polluted and under threat.

Pullers traveled the marine highways of their ancestors, past Victoria, British Columbia, which dumps filtered, untreated sewage into the Salish Sea. They traveled the routes that U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to use to ship 400 tanker loads of heavy crude oil each year.

Canoes traveling from the north passed the inlets leading to Kitimat, where heavy crude from Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia, a project that Canada approved on June 17.

RELATED: First Nations Challenge Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline in Court

Canoes from the Lummi Nation near Bellingham passed Cherry Point, a sacred and environmentally sensitive area where Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal; early site preparation was done without permits and desecrated ancestral burials.

RELATED: Lummi Nation Officially Opposes Coal Export Terminal in Letter to Army Corps of Engineers

Young activist Ta’kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation sang of her fears of potential environmental damage to come in her song, “Shallow Waters”:

“Come with me to the emerald sea / Where black gold spills into my ocean dreams.

“Nothing to be found, no life is around / It’s just the sound of mourning in the air.”

RELATED: Young Sliammon Actor/Singer Campaigns Against Pipeline

Canoes from Northwest indigenous nations arrived in Bella Bella, British Columbia on July 13; the gathering continues until July 19 with cultural celebrations, a rally against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, and an indigenous economic summit. The ceremonies are being livestreamed online at Tribal Canoe Journeys 2014 :: Qatuwas Bella Bella

Mike Williams Sr., chief of the Yupiit Nation and member of the board of First Stewards, noted that the Canoe Journey route calls attention to the fragile environment that’s at stake. First Stewards, an indigenous environmental advocacy group, will host a symposium on “Sustainability, Climate Change & Traditional Places” from July 21–23 in Washington, D.C. 

“The Canoe Journey is a really big statement to us to hang onto our culture and our way of life, and to bind people together,” said Williams, who is also a well-known musher. “In the Iditarod, there are pristine places but there are also old mining towns [on the route] where we’re told not to drink the water.”

The parallels between the water issues encountered on the Iditarod and the Canoe Journey are unmistakable, he added.

“In the Canoe Journey, there are pristine waters and there are waters that contains toxic substances,” Williams said. “There’s oil and the continuous leaking of pipelines. It happens.”

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