Once upon a time is usually the way a fairy tale begins. But this ain’t no fairy tale. Sadly, horribly sadly, the story seems to be morphing into a tale of them and us just when I thought it really could be we. We are on this land together and it makes no sense for our Governments to recreate artificial divisions that engender distrust and despair.
I know the story of immigrant relations with the First Nations is a story many in Century 21 would rather not remember. We could wish the story had been written differently back in Centuries 19 and 20. But it wasn’t, and it has taken a lot of years for all of us to learn how to live together. Just as I was beginning to believe that the light was shining I was blindsided by our own Governments in Victoria and Ottawa and left wondering who am I and where do I belong.
Some radicals might contend that we immigrants certainly don’t belong here, but I believe the radicals are a minority and that most of our First Nations people simply want to get on with their lives, make decent livings, educate their kids, and be regular Canadian people of First Nations descent – just as I want to be a regular Canadian guy of uncertain descent.
About seventy years ago when I was a boy my parents acquired land at Big Lake, twenty-five miles by horse and wagon from the few squatty structures that eventually became the very progressive District of Chetwynd, the Community Carved by Success. Our only visitors were mostly young Indians (their word), which we eagerly welcomed. Musically talented, they would sit in our cabin, play the guitar, and sing the current popular ballads for their own entertainment as well as for ours. It was a case of mutual appreciation. How the world has turned!
One of the young First Nations men who graced our home for a while was called Sidney. He guided us on an adventure that I’ll never forget through the almost-untracked wilderness we now call Del Rio and beyond towards the junction of the Pine and Peace Rivers. How things have changed with the turning world! That area is now one of the most productive gas fields in the District – just 20 miles from Fort St. John but accessible only through Chetwynd.
We thought it could be we, and maybe all hope is not lost, but as things look four meetings into the four scheduled for this area to have conversations with our Governments on the Draft Partnership Agreement, I am not hopeful for an amicable resolution.
I’ve read the Draft; I’ve studied the maps. I find no room for me in the Governments’ plan for saving the caribou. If I don’t belong here, then where do I belong? I can’t go back to the countries from which my ancestors fled 350 years ago. I’d really be fragmented. My wife would have it easier. She has only one country of origin and she grew half way up there.
Chetwynd is the hardest hit by the Draft Agreement. (I put this in present tense because it’s already happening.) The pain is real. The tears flow. The fear grips our guts. The Community Carved by Success is reeling with uncertainty.
To think that our present and our future is now in the hands of a committee of four, one designated by Ottawa, one by Victoria, one by West Moberly, and one by Saulteau who have full power to say Yes or No to development dreams! Unbelievable! Unacceptable! Unconscionable!
The Draft Agreement provides for stabilizing and growing the herds to levels that “support traditional aboriginal harvesting activities” (Draft page 3). Laudable, maybe. But how many animals will that be? At the Tumbler Ridge “conversation” the Government suggested 1000 animals in the South Peace. West Moberly disagrees. It will take “many more.”
Also unclear is the definition of “traditional aboriginal harvesting activities.” Will the hunters be restricted to the use of bows and arrows, flint knives, and rawhide snares? No?
However, there is one mitigating factor in the Draft Agreement: the signatories agree to “carefully consider the economic context of the necessary recovery measures” (Draft page 4, emphasis mine). You can put whatever construction you wish on the quote. But having participated vocally in two of the “conversations” I do not want to mislead you with unfounded hope. My gut feeling on leaving the first “conversation” was that all our words went blowing in the wind. Following the third “conversation” the wind had become a gale.
Sadly, as I wrote in an earlier column, if the Draft Agreement is carried out to its written meaning, there will be massive disruption in our home town once carved by success. You, the people, will have to get the ear of our Governments and make sure they hear you.
Oh by the way, here’s a parting shot from the ancients: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” Ottawa, Victoria, are you listening to our counsel?
Merlin Nichols - Columnist