Wade Davis, son of British Columbia and National Geographic Explorer-in-residence will be giving a talk about The Sacred Headwaters at the PCVS auditorium on November 23rd as part of the Kawartha World Issues World Issues Cafe. Arthur spoke with Wade Davis about indigenous cultures, the plight of the planet, storytelling vs. academics, and his book The Sacred Headwaters.
According to his TED biography, ”Wade Davis is perhaps the most articulate and influential western advocate for the world’s indigenous cultures.” But according to Davis: “I certainly would never apply that to myself.”
He acknowledges that “as a story teller, [he’s] reached out to that area of concern” and that he has “seen the extent to which indigenous people have been marginalized.” However, he also thinks that the idea of advocating for someone is paternalistic, as we all have the ability to express ourselves uniquely.
“All of us are descended from a handful of people who walked out of Africa and the corollary of that is that we all share the same raw intellectual capacity, how we express that capacity is a matter of choice,” he says.
As an anthropologist, he reminded us that anthropology disproved the idea of a genetic trajectory of human innovation long ago. Davis asks, “What does it mean to be human?” Elaborating on this question he states: “The cultures of the world answer that question in 7000 different voices and each one of those voices has something to tell us and each one deserves a place at the council of human knowledge and wisdom.”
When he sets out to make a film or write a book, there is an “intense collaboration” that happens with local indigenous organizations and people. “I tend to draw upon relationships,” Wade mentions. Some of these relationships have been maintained and established over 30 or more years.
The presupposition of an objective scientific method is that the earth is inanimate and this type of thinking removes all other kinds of evidence. As Davis puts it, “Science made a housekeeping of belief.” So the attitude that is developed by this scientific method is that we have not entered into a relationship with the earth, but the planet is just “a mound of rock, ready to be mined.” In Davis’ wide array of experience with different peoples around the world, he has found “that perspective is not the norm, but anomalous.” And if you listen to his Massey Lecture ‘The Wayfinders,’ then you will find a worldview where what defines our interaction with the earth, is a reciprocal relation of give and take.
“I don’t really think of myself as an academic or an adventurer. I think of myself as a storyteller,” he says. The concept of being a storyteller is central to his outlook when it comes to his work. He’s not a writer for the National Geographic, so unlike most professional writers, he unconcerned with writing for an audience and instead concentrates on the subject matter and his relation to it: “As a storyteller, I’m bearing witness to the world.” He paraphrases Hemingway when he mentions that “the writer needs to have something important to say, that the world needs to hear” and was quick to add that it took him 12 years to write ‘Into the Silence’ because it was so heavily researched. This research is where the adventuring fits in, and it’s his experience that allows him to write.
“The Sacred Headwaters is really about this tsunami of industrial development that is sweeping over the northwest of British Columbia, in a sense behind the backs of most Canadians… I don’t think it’s about protecting water. That’s a given. Why should we protect our rivers? They’re the arteries of life!”
He uses one personal example from the book, Todagin Mountain, across from where he lives in Northwest British Columbia. ”To [Wade’s] mind, it’s the most beautiful place in the world” and is the home of an uncommonly large population of stone sheep which in turn make it the home of an uncommonly large population of predators such as wolves, wolverines, and bears. It is the richest concentration of wildlife in Canada and “anchors 9 pristine headwater lakes of the Iskut River, the biggest basin of the Skeena.” It has been protected for over 50 years, with only bow hunters allowed.
But now, Canada’s 75th largest mining company is putting an open pit mine at the top of of Todagin with a subsidized power line, $130 million dollars of which comes from the Green Infrastructure Fund set aside by the federal government to green the economy. Wade compares the gold and copper mine to “drilling for oil in the Sistine Chapel.” He wrote the book so Canadians would know since most Canadians, including former BC Premier Gordon Campbell, have never been up to Northwest British Columbia.
“That’s why we need students in the universities to start rising up and recognizing what’s going on in their country.” Spreading the message is not enough in itself, Wade thinks that “the students should be blockading the offices of these mining companies, they should be sending petitions to governments. It’s their future at stake!”
It’s far too easy for business people “on a golf course somewhere” to obtain the surface mining rights to a place they’ve never been. The result of all of this mining in Todagin, according to Davis, is that the most beautiful place in the world is “not going to be beautiful by the time you get there.” We need to combat this process because our values are much different than the values of mining companies: “All they want is greed, and money. That’s what it’s about.”
Don’t despair though friends, because “despair is an insult to the imagination” and there is lots to be done. As Wade so eloquently observes, “Pessimism is an indulgence.”