Amidst all the political claptrap and media hand wringing over the myriad of industrial developments currently facing the province, it can be easy to forget those who are most directly affected in the battle for B.C.'s future.
So Tamo Campos wants to remind you.
"You hear so much in the Enbridge debates and at a lot of these environmental debates that the First Nations are the last line of defence, they're the ones with the treaty rights or unceded land," the environmental activist said. "You're asking some of the most marginalized, most systemically impoverished communities in the world to be the last line of defence for the environment, and I think that really begs the question: 'What are we doing for them?'"
That's why Campos, co-founder of a collective of snowboarders dedicated to humanitarian and environmental efforts called Beyond Boarding, is speaking at an event in Whistler this month to raise funds for the Klabona Keepers, a group of Tahltan First Nation elders dedicated to protecting the indigenous resources of the Sacred Headwaters area of northwestern B.C. where the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers meet. At the tender age of 24, Campos has already carved out a significant place in Canadian activism circles, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, iconic environmentalist David Suzuki.
Last year, Campos and a group of fellow activists embarked on an 18,000-kilometre road trip in a school bus powered by vegetable oil to visit the communities most impacted by the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. By the end of his eight-month journey, Campos was invited to spend some time with a remote Tahltan community, where a blockade was set up in protest of the proposed industrialization of the Sacred Headwaters by over a hundred corporations with stakes in the area, most notably Royal Dutch Shell and Fortune Minerals. It was there that Campos learned just how much is really at stake for the Klabona Keepers.
"We saw firsthand how it's not just environmental destruction that's happening; it's intrinsically connected to the destruction of communities," Campos said.
"These people come from a community that needs economic stability more than anything else... yet it's the same community where a bunch of elders and community members are drawing the line and saying: 'Yes, we need economic development, but not if it's going to put our land, air, water and grandchildren's lives at risk.'"
It's this level of community engagement that Campos said many Canadians are missing, desensitized by the constant stream of news about the escalating industrialization of B.C.'s wilderness.
"These are people's lives at stake," he said. "These are the places where, in the Sacred Headwaters and lakes, people have stories that go back 10 generations. Having those personal relationships with those people changes everything and hopefully we're going to be able to create that at this event in Whistler."
Campos' high-profile arrest last month on Burnaby Mountain at a protest against Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline made national headlines, with an impromptu, impassioned speech following his release striking a chord across the country. After weeks of sustained protest, the energy giant announced it would pack up its construction equipment before finishing the job, a huge win for environmentalists, and one that Campos said demonstrates the power grassroots activism can have.
"The whole Burnaby protest was started with just a couple young people not affiliated with any organizations, called the Burnaby Caretakers, and they were able to create a huge movement out of that," he said. "It really brought it back to the fact that there is power in people."
The Save the Sacred Headwaters fundraiser is on Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, and will feature presentations by Campos and Beyond Boarding co-founder Desiree Wallace, First Nations activist Audrey Siegl, and music by Squamish singer-songwriter Will Ross. The event includes a silent auction and cash bar, with proceeds going to the Klabona Keepers. By donation.