Co created by Polinizaciones, Peace Valley Environmental Association & others fighting Site C Dam. The Beaver, Bear and Garden photo are copyright of Don Hoffmann.
Like most things it started with an urge, a need, an idea… some time later a pollinator from the Polinizaciones process, also part of the Ríos Vivos Movement was able to reach out to other pollinators and put together a presentation tour that would cross a significant portion of Turtle Island, the North American continent. The idea that developed into the Pollinating Ríos Vivos Tour was to fulfill three main objectives; to first share the experiences of land defense processes such as that of Ríos Vivos Movement, The Strength of Wayuu Women, Yalayalamaana and the Intercultural Communication School of Putumayo through stories, pictures, maps, videos and the Beehive´s Mesoamérica Resiste graphic. The second purpose was to build ties with other land defense processes within the territories being journeyed, especially in the case of indigenous, immigrant and racialized communities. Finally the tour did function as a fund raising strategy to maintain the projects associated with the Polinizaciones process with the above mentioned movements.
Long before the Pollinating Ríos Vivos started, another tour kicked off from the shared territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Missisaugas and the Huron wendat. Two pollinators departed from Toronto making their way west on what was the first Art of Resistance Tour. One of these pollinators, is the Hip-Hop artist Testament, of the duo Test their Logik, who helped combine lyrics about food systems, the war on drugs, decolonization, gold mining and having loved ones incarcerated alongside the Mesoamérica Resiste and True Cost of Coal graphic campaigns that relate a lot of the same stories. The combination of musical and graphic arts of resistance allowed for the Art of Resistance Tour to enter into a wider diversity of spaces than a traditional Beehive Collective graphic campaign tour.
The Pollinating Ríos Vivos tour initiated close to six weeks after the Art of Resistance Tour in Amiskwaciwâskahikan, the city of Edmonton, a territory of different First Nations such as the Cree, Blackfoot, Dene, Nakoda, Salteaux. The first night was a lively artist line up with Testament headlining organized by ESPA- Edmonton Small Press Association at Brittany´s Loungue and the following day being able to share with the incredible space and community at iHuman Youth Society, a large center in downtown Edmonton open to youth and geared to homeless youth that has facilities for painting and art, wood shop, fashion design, music studio, dancing, cafeteria, Elder accompaniment, traditional and current healing, not to mention a committed and loving staff who work with the youth. We briefly hung the banner in the hall way for folks to observe and later shared in a Canadian ThanksTaking meal ;).
From Edmonton we embarked northwest leaving the plains for the city of Fort St. John, located on the uplands of the Peace River Valley and within two hour of the Rocky Mountains. We came to Fort St. John specifically to share with people from the Peace Valley Environmental Association and the local Treaty 8 First Nations (communities predominately from Dane-zaa, Cree, and Saulteau backgrounds). None of the pollinators on the tour had been here before or knew anyone personally. However, as part of the Ríos Vivos Movement and the potential shared experiences and struggles against mega dams, the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project and the Site C Dam Project, we made an effort to go to this region.
The Peace River originates in the Rocky Mountains of northern British Columbia and flows to the northeast through northern Alberta. The Peace River flows into the Slave River, a tributary of the Mackenzie River that ultimately flows into the Arctic Ocean. It´s original name to the Dane-zaa as WpchiigÍi (meaning “big river”) or Tsadu (meaning “river of beavers”), “Unjegah” and “Unchagah” are names often referenced in local history books and provincial place name books. These last two names refer to the making of peace as there were decades of hostilities between the Dane-zaa and the Cree First Nations; in 1781 the Treaty of the Peace was celebrated by the smoking of a ceremonial pipe, making the Peace River a border, with the Dane-zaa to the north and the Cree to the south.
Since the late 1700s European fur traders were in the region and in 1794 a trading post was built on the Peace River at Fort St. John; the first non-native settlement on the British Columbia mainland. Historically and even today the Peace River country is a sea of Boreal forests, made-up of spruce, birch, and poplar, cottonwood, and willow. This is the habitat for a large variety of species such as, but not limited to: Bald Eagle, Moose, Deer, Grizzly Bear, Caribou, Wolves, Elk, Wolverine, Trout, Otter and Beaver to name a few. Some of these animals´ skins and meat were what the initial Europeans fur traders and early settlers to this territory prospered from and kept them alive, with the skillful knowledge and help of the First Nation people.
Today, this territory has been deeply wounded by a long history of rampant pillaging of extractive industries’ relentless search for raw materials. Not far from the infamous Tar Sands in northern Alberta, the Peace River country is also crisscrossed with a growing grid and patch work of conventional oil and gas well sites, facilities, roads, seismic lines, and pipelines. An alarming amount of development, so much in fact, that a David Suzuki Foundation study calculated that if all the existing oil and gas activities recorded were laid from end to end, it would circle the earth 4.5 times!
Recently, the fracking industry has entered the region and this will blanket the land with an entire new layer of destruction; eliminating more forests, taking of water for fracking, and rupturing the earth below the surface without knowing the risks. The industry and government have admitted that recent earth quake activity in the region is because of the fracking activity.
In addition to fossil fuel extraction the Peace River currently has two dams that already exist, the W. A. C. Bennett Dam at Hudson´s Hope built in the 1960s and the Peace Canyon Dam completed in 1980. Both the Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams resulted in the flooding of large areas of forest and displaced many First Nations people from their hunting, fishing, and trapping territories. These dams are owned by the provincial corporation, BC Hydro, which is the entity responsible for the proposed Site C dam along the Peace River.
The government has dubbed it as the “Site C Clean Energy Project”, but as widely known, mega dams are neither green or clean! It is an $8.3 billion earth filled hydroelectric dam that would be located down river from the Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams that would flood over 100 kms of the rivers (the three largest being the Peace, Halfway, and Moberly Rivers) and tributaries with its reservoir. Lost, underneath this reservoir, would be a large amount of fertile land, boreal forest ecosystem, as well as important spiritualand cultural sites for local First Nations peoples.
The Site C Dam was already proposed once and turned down by the BC Utilities Commission in the early 1980s and recently the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have launched legal challenges and are still fighting against the dam in the provincial and federal courts. Since 2010 BC Hydro has been pushing the project through and in the middle of 2015 the expansive logging and construction for the project commenced and since then has destroyed thousands of hectares of forest including old growth and trees harbouring eagle’s nests.
The unique topography of the valley allows a particularly long agricultural growing season not enjoyed by any other region within these latitudes where for many months of the year, squash, beans, corn, leafy greens, carrots, potatoes, wheat, canola and other crops are grown. Proponents of local agriculture claim the river valley could feed a million people. The Peace River is a definite strength in terms of food sovereignty in a region that is not hospitable to agriculture for most of the year. Food sovereignty aside, the relationship of the Dane-zaa and Cree people to their territory, the relationship to place, memory and identity as a peoples is tied to their mountains, their valleys, their forests, all the waterways and this river. Sound like another river and dam we have covered extensively in Polinizaciones?
On January 1st this year the Treaty 8 Land Stewards established the Rocky Mountain Fort at the historic site of the original trading settlement established by European explorers in the late 1700s as a point of first contact and trade with the First Nations of the upper Peace River Basin. Since then the local First Nations, farmers, ranchers and other allies have been defending the land that they have never consented to having destroyed for a hydroelectric dam.
The strategies on both sides have been many, the Rocky Mountain Fort and taking up land defense helps create space for local Native and non-Native youth and elders to nurture traditions and their relationship to their territory, to help deepen their relationship through participating in harvesting and cultural activities, similar to when the Fort was in operation, and supporting the land and all of its inhabitants. The Rocky Mountain Fort is a space that has fostered strategies of direct action for the defense of the land, as well as cultural and spiritual strategies.
None the less BC Hydro and Site C supporters have been relentless, land defenders have been harassed both at the Rocky Mountain Fort and in their everyday lives. Outside intimidation tactics have included verbal assault, car windows broken, phone calls, cyber threats against people, namely Helen Knott, a land defender from Prophet River First Nations and great-great granddaughter of Chief Makenachę “Bigfoot”, last co-signer of the Treaty 8 in 1911 establishing Native rights to 84,000,000 Ha of land including the Upper Peace River Country.
When Polinizaciones shared with Helen Knott she told stories of her river, her people´s river, the river where Peace was signed, and how going to the river is a practice of self-care both in her life and in that of many others. The river has also served as a place of returning to traditions, territorial runnings and offerings.
Knott spoke also of how huge and unacknowledged the loss is by explaining that; “land is connected to us as peoples, both today and historically through our blood memory, and how when going to these places you regain the memories of your ancestors on a cellular level. We as a people have lost so much that we can´t just afford to lose anything else that can give us that.”
On February 29th, the colonial British Columbia Supreme Court with no regards to the Treaty rights of the Treaty 8 Nations granted BC Hydro an injunction against the land defenders ruling for their withdrawal from their own territory. The Land Stewards have since been ordered away from their camp and the old growth forest wiped out. Now more than ever, they could use support and solidarity. March 6th, Kristin Henry started a hunger strike for 20 days until she was hospitalized. Kristen and supporters set-up camp in front of BC Hydro’s corporate headquarters, in Occupied Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territory. The urban solidarity camp still remains active and continues to educate people on the streets about the impending Site C Dam and its many violations – letters are sent daily to Trudeau and hunger striking remains as an action by some campers.
Our visit to the Peace River Valley was nearly a couple of weeks before the first snows of the 2015 winter and even though we were met with cold and clouds, the people who received us were as warm as family members not seen in a long time. In the time we were there we were able to hold the first Pollinating Ríos Vivos works sharing the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic as well as experiences of the different processes such as Ríos Vivos and the Association of Affected Peoples of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project- ASOQUIMBO at the North Peace Cultural Centre.
Afterwards just before sun set we were invited to a lookout point over an area of the Peace River Valley where the logging had already commenced and the land owners had created a sign on the hillside using rocks that clearly read “No Dam C”. That night we shared music, words, food, experiences and items with a variety of beautiful land defender family including people from all ages and communities that we still think about and keep in mind as they are fighting the same fight as we are in Huila.... the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land and their supporters who occupied the historical Rocky Mountain Fort site are our land liberators, the streets of Fort St. John or Dawson Creek are the streets of Garzón and Gigante and the Colonial Government halls of Vancouver or Ottawa are to those of Neiva and Bogotá.
That night we received many messages with peoples of the Peace River. One of the youth most active with the Rocky Mountain Fort land defense is Waylon Fenton who sent a message to children impacted by dams in Colombia by saying; “not be afraid to use their voice, one of the most of powerful weapons in defense of what is ours as kids”.
Verena Hofmann of the Peace Valley Environmental Association sent a message of solidarity by saying; “to all communities in South America and globally in the same story as us, fighting mega dams and big mines… you inspire me, through your stories and pictures. We as people will prevail if we come together, all of us with our land, our water and move with the beat of our hearts. We may seem very far apart, and very different but if we see what we are fighting for we will see it is the similar and close and keep the good fighting going because we are now connected and I want to see that you all prevail.”
As one could expect, tour life is not exactly fit for soaking into places, early the next morning the three pollinators continued on our way but not before a brief stop at the confluence of the Halfway River and the Peace River to thank the rivers and the territory, to experience and feel the place in silence and with permission, to exchange elements of this territory with those from Magdalena and Suaza rivers in La Jagua, Huila. Before rushing back to the car for another full day of driving, two bald eagles danced in the air above us before landing on some large trees watching us as we headed west to other regions where peoples' love for their land has brought them to stand up against all odds to defend their territories against destruction and displacement.
For more information about the campaign to protect the Peace River Valley, go to:
Say “NO” to Site “C” Dam!
Peace Valley Environment Association
Take Me Water Radio Program:
Take Me Water Radio Program: