Pipelines and the Gitxsan Environment
Dr. M. Jane Smith
Gitxsan Nation Storyteller/Educator/Author
Used with permission of the author
"I was born and raised on the Gitxsan Territories and here I remain. I do not want to live anywhere else. I am a part of this land.
Down through the ages, since the beginning of time, the Gitxsan Elders gave a warning to their people: do not be cruel to animals. The heart must be kind to fish, birds, goats and all the creatures the Creator has given. It is from this teaching that I raise my voice and stand with those who say ‘NO’ to pipelines.
At an early age I was taught that everything growing from the land was a part of the Gitxsan, the bodies of the Gitxsan who have died have fed the soil this was why the Gitxsan respected the land and felt that it was sacred. The land was not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. My Grandparents taught me to respect the newcomers to the land. “We all come from the same Creator and the same earth,” they would say, “we are all the same.” Everyone and everything that took nourishment from the land, including the newcomers to the land, were connected to the land and to the Gitxsan.
Since time immemorial the Gitxsan have told stories of the heroes who have destroyed the monsters that have plagued the territories. I thought back to the stories of my Elders and wondered how the Gitxsan heroes of old would overcome this challenge of the threat of devastation to the land. The stories have always given me direction throughout my life and The Story of Little Porcupine tugs at my heart.
The Gitxsan Storytellers tell this story to illustrate the importance of respect for all things and the care needed in dealing with the environment. Down through the ages, Porcupine is notorious for upsetting the balance of nature by tampering with the environment and destroying himself.
One beautiful summer day, as the story goes, a young porcupine was up on Sdikyoodenax. He had been eating all day and was feeling like he should take a nap. Porcupine found a shady place by the scrubby fir bushes. Porcupine settled down for what he thought would be a long nap and pleasant dreams.
Then Porcupine woke up. Something or someone was making an irritating noise. Porcupine looked around and saw that it was Creek that had awoken him. Creek was trickling peacefully over the rocks on her way to the lake. Over Porcupine strutted, very annoyed. Porcupine drank up the creek and licked all the rocks dry. After all was quiet, Porcupine went to the shade under the fir bushes once again.
Soon Creek started her journey again down the mountainside. Porcupine was really angry this time. He went and drank up the creek and licked all the rocks dry. Porcupine went back to continue his nap, but he did not get back to the fir bushes. In the stillness of the afternoon, Porcupine exploded. Creek once again started her journey down the mountain.
To date, the Gitxsan have survived many betrayals to their lands. Now once again, they feel threatened as they face a monster that may strip them of their way of life. If the pipelines goes through, the Gitxsan lands faces uncertainty:
- as they study the effects of the Valdez oil spill
- as they witness the seismic activity that occurs every day along the coast
- as they observe extreme climate fluctuations throughout the mountain ranges
- as they see the instability of the foothill landmasses that is attested by the many landslides
- as they watch their livelihood and their environment being destroyed
- as they question what stories will be left for the children.
The engineers can only guess at the outcome of disturbing the millions of acres of land that the pipeline and its right of way will occupy.
The Gitxsan, who since the beginning of time depend on the provisions the land and rivers provide know, that as the modern day porcupine tampers with the environment and infringes on their rights, there can only be disaster.
With these comments, I conclude that I will have followers and in this way I know that I have told my story. I want to be a part of a Nation that leaves a circle of protective footprints on this gentle earth so the children of the future can love and enjoy the abundance of the land we leave behind."
Dr. M. Jane Smith