Campfire Sites of Decolonization
A central moment in the history and future of this region is playing out at the junction of the Moberly and Peace rivers, where Treaty 8 land stewards are camped in the path of clear-cutting in preparation for the planned construction of Site C dam.
The provincial context for the Rocky Mountain Fort camp and the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land resistance to the controversial project includes the Lelu Island Declaration opposing Petronas and LNG development, the Unist’ot’en camp resisting TransCanada/Enbridge/Pacific Trail pipelines, the Secwepemc protest in the Mount Polley disaster aftermath, the Tahltan defence of the Sacred Headwaters against development on Klappan Mountain—all within the context of the legal rights and rightful occupation of traditional lands established in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision.
As at other sites, the assertion of mere existence and simple presence on traditional lands at Site C is causing a legal and ethical pause in the seemingly endless progression of development and resource extraction mayhem. While the legal system is involved—the stewards, including Helen Knott, Yvonne Tupper, and Ken and Arlene Boon, have been issued an injunction and civil law suit—there remain huge questions about how the region will respond.
Environmentalists like David Suzuki have voiced their support of the land stewards, but a more diverse cross-section of northern BC’s population is starting to see the wisdom in the movement’s goals. Northern BC is a unique place on this planet and government and corporate activity have not made the region’s long-term health and people a priority.
There are numerous arguments against building Site C. The one I understand most has to do with First Nations’ rights. As a social justice issue, I do not see how the courts, and the court of public opinion, can possibly support its construction.
“We continue to be involved in the peaceful, lawful exercise of our Treaty Rights to protect the land and highlight our concerns about the irreversible, negative impacts that this project will have on the Peace River Valley and on the exercise of our constitutionally protected Treaty 8 rights,” Art Napoleon from the Saulteau First Nation said in a press release.
In the text of January’s Lelu Island Declaration, these rights are also stated: “It is our right and our responsibility as First Nations to protect and defend this place. It is our right to use this area without interference to harvest resources for our sustenance, and commercially in support of our livelihoods.”
Beyond this, defence of the land has enormous implications to all people living in the region. When the short-term jobs are gone, what will be left?
I met with Treaty 8 steward Helen Knott and immediately sensed her commitment and integrity. At the same time, I also felt her exhaustion and vulnerability. Her vehicle had just been vandalised in a cowardly but threatening act a few nights before. She deserves and needs support. She is fighting a hard battle by merely standing her ground and asking for her right to be. Her identity is tied to the land that she camps on to protect.
To believe in this place, one must fight so that it is not taken away. It is a region that has supported a variety of communities and distinct societies for thousands of years; our legacy should not be allowing arrogant, greedy government leaders to destroy it.
But when the knowledge and teachings
of the land outweigh the belief
in the legitimacy of your power to control, well
then we find ourselves here.
- Helen Knott, 2016