July 4, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 27

B.C. Minister proposes headwater, Stikine protection

A Canadian parliamentarian has submitted a bill in the legislature of British Columbia seeking to protect the Stikine, Nass and Skeena rivers

Submitted Photo
A bill to be considered by the Canadian parliament would protect the Sacred Headwaters, the source of the Stikine River, from mining or other industrial applications.

Nathan Cullen, Minister of Parliament for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley of Northwestern B.C. has introduced a member’s bill that he says will put the protection back into what he calls a government-gutted Canadian Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Cullen said he submitted the bill believing that the Conservative government of Canada has removed what he calls “99 percent of lakes, rivers and streams protected under the NWPA.”

“I have submitted a bill demanding these internationally significant salmon-bearing rivers … be fully protected under the NWPA,” Cullen said. “Our rivers, lakes and ocean are key to who we are as people of the Northwest. They define us culturally and economically.”

According to Cullen, only parts of the Skeena River have been left protected, leaving all other lakes, rivers and streams without protection from major developers.

The area Cullen is attempting to preserve is called the “Sacred Headwaters” and is considered extremely rich in diverse mineral and energy resources. A great deal of coal and methane gas has been found in the region and a number of open-pit mining projects are in the planning stages.

According to Wrangell Cooperative Association board member Arthur Larsen, supporting a plan to protect the Stikine River is a necessity for the subsistence lifestyle of him, the Tribe, and residents of the Wrangell area.

“I do my subsistence here in Wrangell at the mouth of the Stikine and mining, timber or other types of activities there might affect not only me, but everyone else that uses the river,” Larsen said. “Some people go up river for subsistence and some use the mouth. Some just use Area 8 for sport fishing. I think it would affect the whole area with all the runoff from mining and other activities. I’d like to have our lifestyle around for my family in the future, and then their kids.”

Larsen added that he considers the headwaters sacred and of extreme spiritual importance to the Shtax’heen Kwaan people, or those that came down the ice-covered Stikine River in ancient times.

“Spiritually, it is very important because my ancestors came from up the Stikine River,” Larsen said. “There is a lot of history of family members living up there during the flood and during the Ice Age. We have roots that go way back and it would ruin a lot of things sacred for us and take them away, poisoning the food and the land.”

Cullen submitted the bill last week before the Parliament’s summer vacation. It will be debated later when the MPs return to work.

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