Trudeau just gave the go-ahead to the next Oka – Frontline Salmon Warrior speaks out about Petronas LNG project approval

Goot Ges PNG approval
Photo credit: Goot Ges

The day after the Federal government approved the Pacific Northwest LNG project on Lelu Island, Chief Yahaan of the Gitwilgyots Tribe from Lax Kwa’laams says that we are in it for the long haul, and we will continue to protect the Skeena River for the future of our children. He says this in gratitude to everyone who has supported the reoccupation of Lax U’u’la.

Over a year ago, a group of women called on Yahaan and asked him if we could occupy Lelu Island to save it from this mega project. It has been a long year. All the Chiefs, Salmon Warriors and Land Defenders have put in so much sacrifice to defend Lax U’u’la and Flora Banks.

The politics behind the scene have been dirty, dividing communities and families. Fear tactics have influenced a lot of the so-called support for this project, but have not stopped the Salmon Warriors, most of whom who are fishers. We grew up fishing, and depend on the annual salmon run to sustain our families.

As I sat at home with my children today, I opened up my fridge. In there lay a package of what is known as Cultural Ceremonial fish, candied Steelhead. Like many other houses and families, we usually eat seafood more than once a week. In Haida Gwaii our elders say when the tide drops, our table is set.

Mostly everyone from Lelu Island has been in shock today. We knew it was coming down to a ‘yes’ decision from the feds, but we are still in shock. All the defenders touched base with each other yesterday, and today.

When I spoke with Scott Sampson, Gitando tribe, Eagle, of the Tsimshian Nation, he told me that momentary pleasure shouldn’t cost us our future. I didn’t say anything, but do believe I know what he was referring to. We have a small group of local Indigenous people who have chosen the other side of history. Individuals who take $300 per meeting if they are an “Elder,” or $150 each for every LNG meeting they attended.

Today, looking at all my preserved fish I have for my children from the opportunity to personally fish for them this summer, I wondered, will they be able to do the same when they become adults?

I think what is more painful than the decision of this act of war against my people is to know that we do have some individuals who have sold us out. I know most of their names, say hi to them when I see them. I went to as many pro-LNG events as I could, just to tell them I was there to witness the destruction they bring to our lands. Witnessing is an important part of our culture; when we have our Potlatches we pay our witnesses. All of our culture was oral pre-contact, and still is pretty much.

It has been a humbling experience to see so many people around the globe care, pay attention, get involved. Everyone knows that if this project is built and given a positive “financial investment decision” from Petronas – after the short timespan of 30 years we will have no salmon.

The trees on Lelu, I was taught they are our sisters.

Life will take over six hundred years to regenerate itself on the island. That is approximately ten generations when life will have a chance to be restored to what it is today for Lelu.

But the Tsimshians, the Nisga’as, the Haidas, and all the First Nations along the pipeline right-of-way, will forever be changed. Culturally, we are Salmon People. All our history, stories of war with each other pre-contact, ceremonies, and our languages all come from the spirit of our lands and waters.

Salmon is in our DNA.

Legally, culturally, and physically, the Federal Government just gave the go-ahead for the next Oka in our history.

The last great war of the Tsimshians here was in 1887 when we fought the colonial regime for our lands, when seven Tsimshians were jailed as a judge ruled that First Nations people had no rights to the land “except as the grace and intelligent benevolence of the Crown may allow.” Instead of our people fighting to death for our land, they took refuge in Alaska, and built a new settlement called the New Metlakatla. Today, little has changed in how our rights are discarded for the sake of benefit to the crown.

What has changed in over the century since the last great Maalsk (historical narrative)? Very little. We still fight for our land and the future of our children. We fight for our salmon today, and a whole west coast way of life. We survived contact, the smallpox epidemics, residential schools, addictions, suicides, children in care, incarceration, and the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis.

We will survive this too.

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