Don Roberts, chief counsellor of Kitsumkalum, made an eloquent presentation
in front of the Enbridge hearings Jan. 12 on behalf of his people and us all.
Chief Roberts talked with simple and powerful eloquence of the rich
diversity of wildlife along the Skeena Valley and out into the adjoining
sea. He not only described the commercial wealth of the salmon, halibut and
herring harvests but also of their intricate interdependence with the bears,
birds, seals, whales and the whole vast chain of sea life.
Then he connected that to the life of his people, a people who have a
similar interdependence that has grown over thousands of years. The
Ts’msyen have a huge economic stake in a healthy environment because their
culture and way of life is based on the annual cycle of life around them.
They still harvest their food from their territories throughout the year.
They don’t take the occasional salmon for Sunday dinner. They harvest clams
and cockles, herring and herring roe, sea cucumbers and seaweed. It is an
incredibly diverse and healthy diet and it is utterly dependent on the
health of the land and sea.
A seasoned fisherman, Don Roberts knows the currents and tides of the river
and the coast. He knows how quickly oil could come down river and how
impossible it would be to stop it, especially if the river was iced over.
He knows that it would take the tides a single day to move an oil spill off
Hartley Bay to the mouth of the Skeena. He knows both how quickly disaster
can come and how total it would be.
The Kitsumkalum people would lose their economy. It takes half a million
dollars to buy a fishing boat, outfit it and license it. No fisherman can
afford the loss of his fishery but the Ts’msyen least of all. If a healthy
part of their economy is removed, they are destitute.
But if their food source is removed they will lose even more: their ability to live from the
land and the sea and with that, their culture and their identity as a
Their well-being is tied to the well-being of their territory. So is ours.
“There is no compensation that will ever cover that,” he said. He’s right.