News & Updates
Scratching the Surface: Viewing in the Chilcotins
By Matt Robertson
In forestry we have the unique opportunity of traveling among some of our planet’s more exotic landscapes. Be it the Great Bear Rainforest of the central coast or the northern Boreal, each wilderness area has its own unique identity. These areas are part of the draw that brings 350 people back each year to work in our BC operations. Amongst these stunning landscapes are cultures whose histories range some 300 years ago from first contact with European and Asian settlers searching for resources and a new life, to the First Nations people who began to populate the Americas perhaps as much as 40,000 years ago.
Pursuing our trade, reforestation, is busy work to say the least and can involve a hectic schedule, though we are a nimble bunch that tread lightly and leave a newly planted forest in our wake as we follow the receding snow lines from location to location. As we travel, taking a bit of time to scratch the surface of the histories of the regions in which we work in can have great benefits.
I had such an opportunity in the fall of 2014 when viewing a large military training area that was burned by the Chilcotin forest fires in 2010, and was now in need of reforesting. By 2014, the news of the complex interplay between big industry, government and the Tsilhqot'in First Nation’s people had taken front seat in national media. The Tsilhqot’in people staunchly opposed Taseko Mine’s project “New Prosperity Mine,” which proposed to mine a massive deposit of gold and copper in the Taseko region, and included plans to turn Teztan Biny (or Fish Lake) on the Chilcotin Plateau into a tailings pond and create an artificial lake called “Prosperity Lake.” On one side was a mining company looking to extract copper and gold that is a necessity in our modern culture, and the other, a people with 15,000 years of history of living on that land. The Taseko Mine’s proposal was turned down by the B.C. Government in 2013.
The Teztan Biny area is a couple of hours’ drive south into the bush off Highway 20 on the Chilcotin Plateau. Teztan Biny contains a small island that has the remains of an old earth house dating back 7000 years. For thousands of years, the Elders of the Tsilhqot'in People would travel from their villages along the Chilcotin River from about 100kms up the Taseko River and then paddle across the Teztan Biny to the island to perform their visioning ceremonies in the earth house. The Tsilhqot'in people describe this lake and the surrounding Taseko Mountains as their “church” -- a way of framing the sacred nature of this area to their culture.
The Tsilhqot’in dispute over who had the right to determine the use of their land, the First Nations people or the government, had worked its way over the previous ten years through both local and Provincial Courts and in 2014 finally made it to the Supreme Court of Canada. In June 2014, the Tsilhqot'in First Nation won a landmark decision in the Supreme Court of Canada that will not only reframe how land use and sovereignty will play out at Teztan Biny, but throughout BC and perhaps across the country. They won title and thus sovereignty to approximately 50% of their territorial land claim from the Government of BC.
One of the Tsilhqot'in’s responses to the court decision was to dedicate the Teztan Biny area as the Dasiqox Tribal Park which would put the New Prosperity Mine Project on hold indefinitely, if 100% of their land claim was recognized by the Government.
In the 2014 fall, I had the privilege of taking a day off after the planting viewings at the military training area to attend the celebration of the opening of the Dasiqox Tribal Park at Teztan Biny and partake in the totem raising ceremony. There was a meal for 200 people in the morning, followed by traditional dancing and smudging. The ceremony culminated in the afternoon with the raising of a totem pole gifted to the Tsilhqot'in people by the Nuu-chah-nulth from the west coast of Vancouver Island. The Tsilhqot'in Band were gracious hosts who provided the meal and welcomed anyone who was interested in partaking in their historic day. For me, it was a very impactful experience. I will be heading back there with my family to camp and further explore the Nemiah Valley this summer.
So, as you tread lightly through the landscape, if you take some time to scratch the surface in the communities we are visiting, you may be in for deep learning and a wonderful time.
Have a great 2015 season and see you out there.