Comment nos perceptions culturelles des rivières influencent notre impact sur les rivières

Dans son article, Mark Connell jette un coup d'oeil intéressant aux communautés et aux sociétés, et sur comment leurs perceptions des rivières peuvent et ont déjà eu des impacts sur les rivières. Il nous donne un aperçu des points de vue des peuples préhistoriques, hiérarchiques, autochtones et européens concernant les rivières et il fait état de la manière que leurs croyances, leurs modes de vie et leurs points de vue ont affecté les rivières. 

Mark déclare qu'il y a maintenant un "réveil des gens par rapport aux rivières, à la terre et au monde en général...". Il ajoute que, "les arbres vont redevenir des arbres, les montagnes vont redevenir des montagnes et les rivières vont redevenir de belles rivières animées par l'esprit de la vie." 







"One could no more own a river than one could own the air or the earth."


How our Cultural 
Perceptions of Rivers, 
Shape our Impact on Rivers

by Mark Connell,
Sussex Society for Public Interest
July 5, 2000

nce when I was a young man, trees were trees, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers.  When I grew up, trees were no longer trees, mountains were no longer mountains and rivers were no longer rivers.  But when I became old, trees once again became trees, mountains became mountains and rivers became rivers.
                                                     --- Zen poem

(photo credit: National Archives of Canada /
ID #10009 C-10345 )


Driving logs past the falls of the St. John, NB


In prehistorical times societies were thought to be organized as groups of families or tribes which interacted with nature in a continuum. They interacted with the planet as if there was no boundary between themselves and other animate and inanimate beings. What we now classify as objects and inanimate were perceived as animate. Hence according to Nisga'a's legend Txeemsim, a supernatural being, places a large mountain near Ishkheenickh River in the lower Nass valley to protect Nisga'a fishing grounds from other tribes and catastrophic events. According to Nisgaa'a oral history Txeemsim worked his magic up and down the river. This cultural perception by the people of the lower Nass Valley allowed them to live in relation to the river and the fish runs it provided since their arrival in the valley. Because the river was alive and vested in spirit, it and it's land was sacred, it was honoured and maintained in that mindview.

Ten thousand years ago or more, rivers were channeled and utilized for irrigation in the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization. Agriculture, civilization and history were born there, empires were built; peoples were enslaved in one manner or another to heirarchies working to maintain the power of whichever potentate ruled. Rivers were colonized by empires from the Indus to the Nile. They were utilized for agriculture and for transport they were partially despiritualized in the mindview of power over the land and its people.

Civilization along some of these rivers flourished only briefly as salinised fields gradually became infertile, while others such as the Nile (with its source thousands of miles south of Egypt's farmlands) replenished its soils by annual deposits of alluvium, continued until the building of the Aswan Dam in 1964.

(photo: Michael Barron)


One of the Hydroelectric Generators at Aswan High Dam


Here in New Brunswick, the Wulustukwiyik (Maliseet) had begun the practice of agriculture along the Wulustuk River (Saint John River) before the arrival of Europeans. This marked the extreme northeasterly extension of indigenous agricultural practices and did not disrupt the land or it's local dieties. The Mi’Kmaq did not practice agriculture on the rivers which they inhabited in Nova Scotia and along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Rivers were perceived nonetheless by all of the Abenaki peoples, like the Nisga'a, as beings to which their lives were deeply intertwined in which ownership was an incomprehensible concept. One could no more own a river than one could own the air or the earth.

European settlers brought different cultural perspectives inherited from their empire building past. They brought marvelous iron tools, powerful means of transportation, concepts of ownership of land and water and a social organization which exploited people and resources with an indifference to the people, landscape and its ecosystems. Rivers were utilized as highways to access and extract timber and mineral wealth. They became simply a means of access and they lost their deeper spiritual context to the lives of the peoples inhabiting them. Nonetheless, within the bizarre context of private property and private or crown ownership of resources, pre-industrial European settlers developed folk cultures along our rivers which achieved a balance within the context of what the fishery or the forests could support.

(photo credit: Frederick Dally
National Archives of Canada  #10047 / C-65097)


An Indian salmon weir and dugout canoe


It was not until industrial times, from the early 1900's to the present, that the holocaust of species depletion through overexploitation based on increased technical ability to exploit natural resources and an increasing alienation of our folk cultures from nature took place. The culture of capitalism tended to treat all objects animate or inanimate as commodities for exploitation and for making a profit. The theories of Darwinism were manipulated to glorify competition and dispel notions of harmony, co-operation or collaboration in nature. Steamboats plied the rivers, log drives depleted the forests and destroyed the river bottoms. The waters became bearers of disease such as polio and typhoid. Pulp mills were built to meet the demand of exploding urban populations. These industries polluted entire rivers, estuaries and bays with chemical pollutants. Food industries later contributed starch, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, biphenols which mimicked hormones and disrupted living organisms producing cancer epidemics among the unwitting population. Dams were built thus destroying runs of salmon and rich bottomlands. Sewers from towns and cities competed the despoiling of the once beloved rivers while betraying the callous attitudes of a society driven and directed by a profit motive...while making the populace spiritually and physically complicit by luring them through its various media to embrace this ubiquitous destruction as progressive civilization.

Recently over the past half century there is a reawakening of people to the rivers, to the land and to the world as if it were once again a living being to be revered and cared for as one would care for one's new born child. It is the green movement which leads us anew down the rivers in this new spirit and ..

Once again trees will become trees, mountains will become mountains and rivers will become beautiful rivers invested with the spirit of life.