Every once in a while you get the chance to visit a place that moves you and changes you for the rest of your life; the Douglas Channel, Sacred Headwaters, Sombrio Beach. But part of this experience is sharing your thoughts and emotions with someone else, and quite often sharing the place with them.
Ali Howard is swimming the Skeena River. She’s experiencing the river up close and personal. But, more importantly, Ali’s bringing the river into people’s lives, telling its story and hers, and highlighting our communal dependence on our natural resources.
From the pristine Sacred Headwaters, through its industrialized valleys and to its mouth in Prince Rupert, Ali’s swim covers the Skeena’s 610km over 28 days. Together with the salmon, bears and eagles that call the river home, Ali is bringing the Skeena River to life.
“What happens at the source affects everybody downstream,” Ali says. And she’s right. The coalbed methane proposals and the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline that threaten the Skeena will affect not only the wildlife that the river supports, but the communities that depend on the river for their livelihood. Ali’s swim helps tell this story.
Ali is personalizing the Skeena. She’s giving people a chance to come together and celebrate the river, her journey and their community. Like the late Terri Fox, Ali has succeeded in bringing people together for a common cause. Fox’s Marathon of Hope is a part of most Canadians’ lives, and his legacy will continue to bring attention to the impact of cancer on our society.
Hopefully, Ali’s swim will make a similar lasting impact. She’s bringing the threats that face the Skeena alive by allowing people to connect to it through her. Each time she comes ashore, a new community gets the chance to talk about what the Skeena means to them. While there may be conflicts over fishing licenses, forestry practices and residential development that affect the health of the Skeena, communities can unite to recognize the power of the river and Ali’s inspiration for swimming.
Ali reminds us that while we’re working to protect natural places, we are motivated to do so by the people that we share these places with. Only together we can protect regions like the Sacred Headwaters and the way of life of the communities downstream.
Well done Ali, her team and the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition for all their efforts!