In 1990 I took 3 months to circumnavigate Vancouver Island by kayak as a transition to my new life in Tofino. Coming around Estevan Point from the north, I caught my first glimpse of Flores Island, in Ahousaht First Nations territory. At that point I’d been paddling past horrendous clear cuts for over a month—most of the mountains on the west coast of Vancouver Island were logged bare during the 80s. Flores Island stuck out like a gem. There is something about seeing a landscape not dominated by industrial humans. It is so rare to see on Planet Earth at this point—it’s an incredibly healing sight.
The indigenous people of northern Europe are called Sami. They are known for herding reindeer on the tundra. What we learned while in Norway is that the coastal Sami culture centres on wild salmon, much like coastal Natives in what is now called British Columbia. These two species, with their predictable migration patterns, provided the protein on which a rich culture was founded—the Sami.
The Alta River in northern Norway is famous. The stretches downstream of Northern Europe’s biggest canyon teem with big salmon, and have been a mecca of sports fishing for many years. The reindeer herds also come to the banks of the headwaters to calve in the rich pastures.
A major dam on the Alta River?
Back in 1970, the Norwegian government announced plans to build a major hydroelectric dam on the Alta River. Questions about the reindeer, the wild salmon, or interference with Sami rights were not even considered. What became known as the Alta Controversy began as a conflict between the Sami and the Norwegian government. The Sami village of Masi was to be flooded, and people rightly feared extensive disruption of the environment. Eventually the resistance morphed into a People’s Movement which became a nationwide flashpoint for a growing awareness of the need to protect the environment and uphold indigenous rights.