It’s a timeless story that’s been told across generations. It’s been told in just about every language you can imagine, by every people ever to walk this earth. It’s the story of the river.
We arrived from Juneau to hear the story of the Stikine River first hand, from the folks who live near its mouth and along its shores. With the understanding that clean water is a story that often speaks for itself, we put together a small film crew to put that story into a video narrative. And we didn’t have to travel far to hear the first chapter.
No less than a half hour after we arrived, we ran into three generations—grandfather, son, and grandchildren—all doing their part to skin a moose they’d shot earlier that day. We gave them space to do their work, but we managed to sneak in a few questions...
Where’d you get him?
Up the river in a wetland we hunt every year.
When did you get him?
Earlier this morning.
Although the answers were vague to protect the location of rich Stikine wetlands that big bulls prefer, a few things became clear. The Stikine River was up to her usual ways: Providing food for multiple generations who call the watershed home.
Later that week, our crew was lucky enough to sit with nearly twenty people and hear their stories. Not all were from Wrangell, but all had a deep connection with the Stikine and its clean waters and wetlands. A half dozen tribal members of the Wrangell Cooperative Association met with us, whose stories recounted thousand year old histories of the human-river interaction, and how the bounty of the Stikine literally saved the lives of the first Wrangell residents. Business owners in Wrangell and Telegraph Creek provided personal narratives about the rich waters that had given them their livelihoods. Fishermen, families, and elected officials in Petersburg described a blunt reality: Without a clean Stikine, Petersburg’s whole existence would be in jeopardy.
Closer to the river’s headwaters in British Columbia, we made a few new friends. Watching the sun descend over Tahltan country at the confluence of the Stikine and the sockeye-rich Tahltan River, our new friend Hazel summarized it well:
I’ve lived here my whole life, along the Stikine. And I’m sure of it. I’m sure I live in the most beautiful place on earth.
Although personal, Hazel’s story wasn’t an anomaly. In fact, in a week of impressive sights and stories, perhaps the most impressive thing was the continuity. Literally every person we spoke with, from Petersburg to Telegraph Creek to Wrangell, spoke of their reverence for clean water.
August, a respected elder who grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping nearly every tributary of the Stikine, used different words to tell the same story Hazel had the night before:
Every creek, every lake, every stream runs into the Stikine River. This is our blood vein, this Stikine River.
As the week progressed, we heard folks in Wrangell and Petersburg use words such as “heart beat,” “lifeblood,” and “the river provides” to describe the human relationship with clean water. And it wasn’t difficult for us to gather these stories, as people sought us out in town to share their reverence for clean water with us.
In a region where seemingly everything is controversial, where seemingly everything evokes a heated and contrary opinion, it was refreshing to experience how clean water has the power to unify. To bring people from diverse backgrounds together to celebrate a shared and sacred resource. In our week of collecting stories on the Stikine, we spoke with people from all walks of life. From the Tahltan and Tlingit nations, to descendants of Norwegian sourdoughs. From business owners to biologists, fishermen to administrative assistants, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and the unaffiliated, one thing remained constant: clean water anchors Southeast Alaska. Clean water is life.