How we treat our land Now will determine our country’s future

May 31, 2017
Caleb Snider, Congress 2017 blogger

The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences brings together leading thinkers, academics, researchers, policy-makers and innovators to explore some of the world’s most challenging issues. Congress celebrates the vitality and quality of Canadian research contributions, and helps train the next generation of Canadian ideas leadership. This year’s theme “The Next 150, on Indigenous Lands" celebrates the history, legacy and achievements of the peoples and territories that make us who we are, and anticipates the boundless opportunities of the future. Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, this year’s Congress is being hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto from May 27-June 2. Follow this series of Big Picture at #congressh blogs.

According to the incomparable Wade Davis, it is the role of anthropology to show us that every culture has something to say and each deserves to be heard. And that the people of the Sacred Headwaters have something spectacular to share with us — something that needs to be protected and preserved. For Davis, the story of the Sacred Headwaters is deeply personal, because this region, one of the last places on earth to receive sustained contact with Europeans and their North American descendants, is where he chooses to call home.

Speaking with his customary eloquence and humour, and accompanied by his own stunning photographs of the region, Davis described a unique landscape of mountains, rivers, lakes and glaciers under threat from unscrupulous venture capitalists and self-centred politicians looking forward to the next election, not the next generation. Various mining and natural gas extraction programs have fallen to their own short-sightedness, but the provincial government of British Columbia needed to justify huge spending at taxpayer expense and so allowed Imperial Metals to set up gold and copper mining operations in the area that have contaminated the land, water and air.

To Davis, this is not a question of mines or no mines, but where to build those mines, at what cost, and to whose benefit. Imperial Metals has removed billions of dollars worth of gold from Northwestern BC, and none of that money has gone to infrastructure for the people living there. Davis pointed out that this is not just a local issue: it is about our future as a society and a country. It is about whether we are going to continue to allow people with no connection to the land to exploit it and leave scars on the physical and human infrastructure in the name of development and profit at any cost. He called for a regeneration of hope for real democracy, and for a return to accountability and transparency.

The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass was part of the Big Thinking lecture series at Congress 2017.