– Submitted by The Rivershed Society of BC

Awareness is an upstream battle…

You probably read one story each day about the decline in wild salmon, the possibility of salmon and sturgeon becoming extinct, the pollution that is toxifying our Fraser River Basin, or the wildfires burning across British Columbia.

“The decisions we make today will be remembered, the impacts felt by generations to come,” says Fin Donnelly, chair of the Rivershed Society of British Columbia (RSBC) and founder of FraserFEST, about climate change.

The Rivershed Society of BC isn’t sitting idle, reading the stories in the news. Its members have been developing programs and projects for the last 22 years with the aim of reconnecting organizations and individuals with their riversheds, nature, and communities while offering a first-hand look into climate change to understand the changes and what they can do to raise awareness.

Their largest project – a festival packed with educational river experiences and community outreach activities – was FraserFEST, an annual event which happened for the 5th time on August 5 to 26, 2018. The festival included 11 community dinners in communities along the Fraser River, seven raft trips in the Fraser Canyon,  seven sold out days of guided paddling trips on the Lower Fraser River, five guided cycling trips in the Lower Fraser region, six eco tours and one Fraser River swim. Participants learned about the Fraser’s history and culture, issues threatening its health, solutions for change, and how to take action. The public also joined the journey for a day and rafted Hell’s Gate.

Another program RSBC has offered for 15 years is their Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP). This year, from August 2 until August 28, nine participants travelled 1,400 kms down the Fraser River, from the headwaters to the sea, by canoe, raft, shuttle van, and on foot. They travelled through ten of BC’s 14 biogeoclimatic zones, studying watersheds, salmon, resource management, and how to lower one’s ecological footprint. They discussed what it means to live sustainably, and how to apply Watershed CPR (conservation, protection and restoration). Evenings were spent camping under the stars along the banks of the river, while days were spent learning about stewardship and designing their own sustainability project to implement in their communities on their return.

Some of the organizations joining the rafting or paddling on the SLLP and FraserFEST journeyed to reconnect to the Fraser River. These included organizations whose life work focuses on salmon and or rivers, like the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Indigenous Environmental Network, West Coast Environmental Law, and the Fraser Basin Council. They sponsored paddling teams, and two of Fraser Basin’s youth joined the SLLP journey. Funding or joining the journey by raft or canoe were many other organizations like Patagonia, Real Estate Foundation of BC, City of New Westminster, FortisBC, and others, all recognizing the importance of creating awareness of the health of our salmon and rivers.

During last year’s FraserFEST, RSBC filmed a young woman, Keely Weget-Whitney, swim across a section of the Fraser River producing the film, For The Love of Salmon, as part of RSBC’s collection of Rivershed Stories. Keely’s 60-kilometre Fraser River swim spanned from Lillooet to the Stein River. She was unsure if she would complete the swim, and furthermore, if the swim would even have an impact. Her strength lay in the determination of bringing even a small drop of awareness to climate change and the environmental impacts that are having devastating effects on the salmon and our rivers today. “I just feel that if I, a young Indigenous Stl’atl’imx mother, cares, people will consider that and ask themselves, ‘Why don’t I care? What can I do to create change?’,” she says. As she battles the strong current and her own self-doubt, Keely encourages us all to come together to make change. The film has now been recognized for three awards including: Pinnacle Award: Short Film, Elevation Indie Film Awards, Dublin Ireland; Audience Choice Award for Best BC Film, Moonrise Film Festival, Wells BC; Special Jury Award; Cinemuskoka, Muskoka, Ont. and consists of stunning aerial cinematography by Jan Vozenilek, Copper Sky Productions.

Keely’s swim and film have impacted viewers to take notice of environmental issues and work toward change. On August 19, during FraserFEST 2018, Keely swam the Fraser River again, and in some sections was accompanied by Fin Donnelly, also member of parliament and the critic for Fisheries, Oceans, and the Coast Guard. Donnelly has swum the full length of the Fraser River twice.

So, when was the last time you took action against climate change? Need some inspiration? Well, get out and experience the Fraser River, go see a screening of the film, For the Love of Salmon, or have your group screen it on BC River’s Day, and read more Rivershed Stories like Keely’s, at rivershed.com/stories. Interested in screening the film for your BC River’s Day event? Please email info@rivershed.com with your request.



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