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This relationship between marriage and resource use assured the flexibility needed to take advantage of all the opportunities in Sekani territory. Animal migrations, a diversity of habitats, and seasonal variability, were all factors that influenced the productivity of a region for hunting, fishing and gathering. While Sekani territory has a great variety of food, it was not always abundant at the same place or the same time. The ability to move from one region to another gave individuals and their families an intimate knowledge of an extensive area.
This not only maximized the success of the harvest but allowed for the management of resources over a larger area. Regions were thus never ‘empty’ but were utilized according to a complex resource management plan intrinsic to the Sekani.
1.7 Early Contact 1.7.1 Explorers and Fur Traders First contact between the Sekani and non-native people took place in the late eighteenth century when explorers and fur traders first came to the region in search of easy trade routes across the Rockies and to expand the fur trade into the territory. In 1793, Alexander MacKenzie (1995) traveled up the Peace and Parsnip river systems on his way to the Pacific Ocean. He noted that many Sekani had never seen white men before. He called the Sekani, ‘Rocky Mountain’ Indians and made specific reference to two groups of Indians, one at Parsnip River and the other living on the shores of McLeod Lake.
Four years later, in 1797, John Finlay explored the southern portion of the Finlay River but unfortunately left no journal of his exploration of the river. He was followed by Simon Fraser who established a post at McLeod Lake in 1805. He called the Sekani, ‘Meadow Indians’ and noted several different groups including two inhabiting the upper watershed of the Beaver and Pine Rivers and two ‘Big Men’ groups, one living on the Nation River and the other at McLeod Lake (Lamb 1960:195).
Daniel Harmon (2006) encountered the Sekani when stationed at the Rocky Mountain Portage at Stuart Lake and at Fort McLeod. In 1812 he describes a village of “Sicannies” living north of Stuart’s Lake.
January 7, Tuesday. On the 4th Inst. I accompanied by several of our People sat off for Tachy a Village towards the other end of this [Stuarts] Lake, … From where we went up a considerable River [probably the upper Stuart River] about half a Days march, where we came to another Village whose Inhabitants appear to be mostly Sicannies [Sekani], and who appear to be more industrious than the last mentioned People and therefore better cloathed and fed. (Harmon, 2006: 132) 6 Harmon’s journal entry is significant as it is rare for TseKehNay village sites to be mentioned in the early literature.
It was not until 1824 that fur trader Samuel Black traveled the length of the Finlay River to its source. His journal is highly informative of the lands and lives of the Sekani people at this Comments in square brackets are included in the 2006 edition. The village noted by Harmon may be the same site as the village at Trembleur Lake where, in 1893, Indian Reserve Commissioner Peter O’Reilly allotted five reserves for a “branch of the Siccanee Tribe” who lived in six houses at the mouth of the Middle River.
(O’Reilly, 1893) time. He had a Sekani guide who, with his family, carried Black’s heavy packs and supplied him with meat and fish. On the upper arm of the Finlay River he met Chief Methodiates 7 and his band who regularly wintered in this region.
The purpose of Black’s visit was to assess whether a post should be established in the region for the Hudson Bay Company. Chief Methodiates requested that a post be established at Thutade Lake as he considered this lake the best place in the region to support a post. He promised Black that if they did so, he would remain in the area during the winter months, which he did at times, rather than travel to the plains east of the Rockies (Rich 1955:52, 58).
Chief Methodiates later changed his mind about the establishment of a post at Thutade Lake.
By the time Black and his party left Thutade Lake they had caused huge forest fires that
devastated the Thutade Lake and upper Finlay River area. Black notes in his journal:
I am sorry to observe that some of our Fires coming up has completely desolated these fine Vallies of Wood extending to near Thutade & up Fire steel River is completely burnt & left dreary waste discovering the bare Rocks through the Black stems of the burnt Trees” (Rich 1955: 88).
Upon returning to Thutade in early September, Black wrote that “the woods are on Fire near the Lake in the Valley” (Rich 1955:185). Later, as Black descended the Finlay River in September, he noted again that the upper reaches of the Finlay River were “completely burnt & all the fine Pine Bark destroyed. (Rich 1955:191).
Patterson, in his introduction to Black’s journal suggests that:
…[Black’s] fires were not properly extinguished …the result was that a large stretch of country below Thutade Lake was burnt over … [the fires] burnt the only stand of canoe birch that was seen in the whole length of the river…, furbearing animals are destroyed or driven away… [and] the burnt out territory becomes a wearisome tangle of fallen trees. The Sekani, when Black returned to Thutade Lake in September, did not seem particularly anxious to have a post established in their territory: it is possible that they have been influenced by the desolation of the still smoking valley below them, and that the occasion would be long remembered as the year the white men came and set many fires. (Rich 1955: lxxiii-lxxiv) In 1826, the Hudson Bay Company established Fort Connolly on Bear Lake and the Sekani began to make seasonal visits to the post to trade their furs for guns, ammunition, pots, kettles, and other goods. Many of these trade goods began to replace traditional technology and increased the emphasis upon trapping for furs. In 1828, Sir George Simpson (Rich 1947:23) reported that at the trading post at Connolly’s Lake, “there were about 30 hunters of the ‘Seccani’ tribe who make their hunts in the Mountainous Country about the head Waters of Finlays branch.” These hunters were accompanied by their families.
Methodiates means “Snow Came Upon Him Suddenly” (Tse Keh Nay, 2006)
In spite of trading posts located in their midst and their participation in the fur trade, Sekani families remained highly mobile and continued their seasonal rounds over a wide area, hunting, fishing and gathering in their traditional way.
Eventually, however, the efforts of missionaries and agents of the federal Department of Indian Affairs and the pressures of settlement in the area led to the establishment of Photo 4: Fort Grahame, PABC Photo G-06440 reserves for the Sekani people.
1.7.2 Reserve History The first reserves allotted for the Sekani were located around fur trading posts in order to accommodate their seasonal visits.
In 1892 Peter O’Reilly, the Indian Reserve Commissioner for British Columbia, set aside a 286 acre reserve for the Fort McLeod Band adjacent to the fort. Four more reserves were allotted by the Royal Commission in 1916 for the “Sicannees Band” at Fort McLeod. At that time the Band consisted of 75 members. (Canada and British Columbia, 1915, 1916; Canada, 1943) In 1893 O’Reilly allotted five reserves for a “branch of the Sicannies” at Trembleur Lake, south of Takla Lake (O’Reilly, 1893). The literature suggests that a Sekani settlement had been in existence in this area since 1812 (Harmon, 2006:132).
Reserves for the North Takla Lake Band were not assigned until the Royal Commission visited the region in 1915. On June 14, 1915, Headman Teejee made a number of applications on behalf of the Takla Lake Band to the Commissioners at Fort St. James and in 1916 the Commission allotted seven new reserves to be held jointly with the Trembleur Lake Band (Canada and British Columbia, 1915, 1916). Although there is nothing in the Royal Commission testimony to indicate the nature of the relationship between the two groups, this joint allotment is of some interest as it connects the North Takla Lake Band, generally categorized as a Carrier group (Duff, 1969:34) to a group with Sekani origins.
In 1916 the Royal Commission also allotted seven reserves for the Bear Lake Tribe. The commissioners did not meet directly with members of the the Bear Lake Band and their reserves were set aside as a result of the testimony of the Stuart Lake Indian Agent (Canada and British Columbia, 1915).
In 1959 the North Takla Lake Band and the Bear Lake Band amalgamated to form the Takla Lake Band. Today the Takla Lake Band has 17 reserves comprising approximately 2,000 acres (Canada, 1943; Canada, n.d.).
In 1969 the predecessor of B.C. Rail, Great Pacific Eastern, approached the federal government with a proposal to extend their rail line through a number of Takla Reserves. In 1974 an agreement was negotiated whereby the railway was permitted to take land from Takla Reserves in exchange for new Reserve land to be provided by the governments. Canada is required to turn over 860.79 acres under the terms of the Agreement but has not yet done so.
The railway has used and benefited from Takla's former reserve lands since the mid 1970s but, some 30 years later, Takla has still received nothing in return.
The Fort Grahame Reserves were not allotted until 1916. On May 9, 1916, the Royal Commission set aside two reserves for the Fort Grahame Band: I.R. #1, Finlay Forks, containing 168 acres on the left bank of the Finlay River at Fort Graham and I.R. #2 Police Meadows, a reserve of 640 acres located thirteen miles north of Fort Grahame. The Police Meadows Reserve was later reduced to 320 acres by the Clark-Ditchburn Commission. The Band population in 1916 was 57 (Canada and British Columbia, 1916; Canada, 1943). The
following is taken from the evidence of the Indian Agent to the Commissioners:
Q. What is the nature of these Indians?
A. They are nomadic in their habits 8 – they wander over a very extensive area of country there between the Findlay river and they go as far north as Liard and It should be noted here that the term ‘nomadic’ used to refer to hunting and gathering peoples is an archaic term. Hunter-gatherers do not wander around aimlessly. On the contrary, anthropologists maintain they had intimate knowledge of their environment and occupied the lands and managed the resources during their seasonal rounds within a bounded territory. The former artificial distinction between hunter-gatherer societies
It is clear from this exchange that in 1916, the Fort Grahame Band continued to hunt over an extensive territory and that the Commissioners recognized the McLeod Lake, Bear Lake and the Fort Grahame Bands as Sekani people.
In the 1920s the Fort Grahame Band split to form the Fort Grahame and Fort Ware Bands after Fort Ware was established at the confluence of the Fox and Kwadacha rivers. However, Fort Ware reserves were not formally allotted until 1942 when three reserves were purchased from the Province: I.R. #1 at Fort Ware (958 acres) and two fishing station reserves on Sucker Lake and Weissener Lake of approximately five acres each (Canada, 1943).
In 1959 the bands amalgamated again to become the Finlay River Band. When the region was flooded in 1963 to create Williston Lake, the Ingenika group of the Finlay River Band was forced out of their villages at Fort Grahame, Finlay Forks and Ingenika. They were offered two new reserves, the Tutu and the Parsnip but the proposed reserves did not meet their needs. Unable to reach a decision on a permanent location, the Finlay River Band separated into the Fort Ware and the Ingenika Bands in 1970. The Ingenika Band became know as the Tsay Keh Dene Band (TKD, 2002:96).
In 1989, BC Hydro, British Columbia and Canada signed an agreement that allowed the Tsay Keh Dene Band to select 2,000 acres at the Finlay River site, 1,000 acres at Mesilinka and 5 acres at the Ingenika Point Cemetery Reserve. The cost of this project was estimated at more than $10 million. The process of converting these federal land parcels to reserves is still ongoing (TKD, 2002:96; Canada, n.d.).
1.7.3 Residential Schools
Catholic missionaries established churches and missions in the interior regions of British Columbia in the 1860s but personal visits to Sekani territory were infrequent. The Sekani, while adopting Catholic ideology early in their contact history, continued to maintain Sekani indigenous beliefs that were strongly linked to the land.
In 1921, the Oblates established Lejac Residential School at Fraser Lake. This replaced a similar school at Fort St. James that had opened in 1917. While some Sekani did attend this and agricultural societies has also broken down as research has revealed an increasing amount of evidence of cultivation and management by hunter-gatherer societies.
school, the Department of Indian Affairs did not force children to attend the school until the late 1940s and early 1950s. This enforcement was not popular and many families refused to comply by remaining on the land with their children. This became more and more difficult as trapping became less economically viable and when families were forced to seek seasonal employment to supplement their incomes, their children were seized. Banned from speaking their language and forced to live in an institutional setting, many of these children were traumatized by the residential school experience. This was compounded by the physical and sexual abuse present at this school. Lejac Residential School closed in 1976.
In the 1960s the Department of Indian Affairs began to fund day schools on the Sekani reserves. Until recently these schools only taught elementary grades. To obtain a high school education, students were sent to Prince George to attend Prince George College, later named O’Grady Catholic High School. This school closed in 2001. Students who attended this school are presently ineligible for the Common Experience Payment (CEP) and the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Process despite years of alienation from their families, language and culture.