Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Rocky Mountain Trench

I wrote a play many years ago called A Height of Land. I got the idea travelling through the flat boggy country north of Prince George around Summit Lake, the area where the Pacific and Arctic watersheds divide, where the water can’t quite make up its mind which way to go.

My play opens with an old woman talking about squatting to pee in the bush, watching her water trickle off into different directions, shifting her feet to keep them clear, all the while creating a mini-watershed, rivulets creating their own passages, dividing and spreading.

This play was about Smithers – and never mentioned Summit Lake or points north. And folks around here don’t think about the beleaguered Peace River watershed much – twice dammed, tar sands, oil wells further north, we don’t think about rivers without salmon. Salmon are central to our lives. Salmon are what bring the conservation attention and dollars to the Morice, Bulkley and Skeena rivers and the north coast.

But I have always been fascinated with the Parsnip and Finlay, rushing toward each other from the north and south, careening down the Rocky Mountain Trench only to crash at the forks and turn abruptly east to pass through the Rockies into the northeastern prairie lands, into the Athabasca and the Mackenzie, passing through some of the richest and most diverse wetlands on the planet and finally into the Arctic Ocean. I’m describing this because this incredible watershed doesn’t register in the west. Not linked by water or by fish, we live separate lives even when we live in the same province and the same country.

But there is, now, something that could, quite literally link us - in ways that could diminish us all. This pipeline. Summit Lake is the spot on Highway 97 where the water shifts north and east: Crooked River, the Parsnip River, the Ingenika, the Omenica, the Nation, Blackwater, Manson, and the creeks – Ekland, Mischinsinlika, Gataiga, Buth, Lignite, Scovil, Diache, Tsedeka, Dastaiga, Morfee, Mugaha, Tutu, Tony, Patsuk, Kimta, Latla, Inati – they flow into the remains of the Parsnip/Finlay/Peace watershed, through the devastation of the Williston Reservoir into the huge inland delta of the Athabasca and beyond to the Mackenzie and the Arctic Ocean. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposes to go under the Parsnip, just upstream of the Hominka River and will travel for quite a few miles along the north side of the Missinka. Names I’d like to hear about from people who have travelled there.