Canada’s Lax Kw’alaams show us how we can be saved: by loving the natural world and local living economies more than mere money and profit. Everything has a price. We assume this principle is endemic to modern life and that accepting it is most obvious to the impoverished. Except all over the world, people are defying it for a greater cause. That courage may be even more contagious.
It has been in full supply in north-west Canada, where an oil giant is aiming to construct one of the country’s biggest fossil fuel developments: a pipeline to ship liquified natural gas (LNG) out of British Colombia. To export it overseas via tankers, Malaysian-owned Petronas must first win approval for a multi-billion dollar terminal on the coast.
That happens to be at the mouth of Canada’s second-largest salmon river, on the traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation. Among the world’s greatest un-dammed rivers, the Skeena abounds in the fish depended on by encircling wildlife and from First Nations and an entire regional economy.
Last year, after our modern principle, Petronas offered the First Nation an offer they imagined could not be refused: in exchange for their support, a whopping $1.15 billion in money. But put to a vote, the Lax Kw’alaams resoundingly said “no” every single community member.
When Petronas made the offer, Lax Kw’alaams hereditary chief Yahaan says he believed the community poor and with few employment prospects might vote.
“Opportunities like that don’t come to your door every day,” he states. “But I give my people credit for taking that bold step. They showed their love and their passion for the land and water. No amount of money can compare to the richness of the river and what it gives us.”
They understood something even a billion dollars couldn’t convince them to ignore: that you could not pick a worse spot to transform in an industrial landscape. The suggested site for the LNG plant is smack in the middle of a unique estuary, a coastal Mecca for fish: at which each year countless millions of young salmon, having travelled down the river after arrival, feed and nurture as part of the journey to adulthood.