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[W]e used to go out in the summer to work and come back in the fall with what money they had made and go trapping. They used to go out from the river boats from here (Ingenika) and from Fort Grahame and Fort Ware all the way down to McLeod Lake for jobs in the sawmills and all that when Catermole(sic) timber moved to Finlay Forks in 1965. We lived in Finlay Forks for a couple of years, with the men working in logging camps (Pollon & Matheson 1989:336 in TKD, 2002:81) After the 1960s companies such as BC Forest Products, Cattermole Timber Company, Bowater Canadian Corporation and Consolidated Bathurst, Balfour-Guthrie, Netherlands Oversea and Ferguson Lake Sawmills, with headquarters all over the world, began logging huge tracts of the forests. They set up sawmills, built towns to house their employees, and built miles of wide dusty roads throughout the territory. Logging became intensive. As a Tse
Keh Nay member noted:
The Omineca is one of the major rivers that runs in about halfway, right across the Finlay Fork. There’s a big bay at Omineca that runs eleven miles, and there are camps everywhere, logging trucks by the hundreds, skidders and fallers and diesel oil and leakages’s and nobody cares, nobody gives a damn…(Pollen & Matheson 1989:230 cited in TKD 2002:83) The Tse Keh Nay found some jobs, but at great loss to the land from the deforestation of timber stands, the disruption of migration patterns of wildlife, the depletion of fish stocks on the rivers and streams and the destruction of sensitive habitats where important plants grew.
There were no environmental assessments, impact studies, or best forestry practices and this is apparent today on the physical landscape of Tse Keh Nay lands. Many of the companies have moved on but the Tse Keh Nay remain.
3.3 Roads and Railways Roads and railways have also had a negative impact upon wildlife and have restricted Tse Keh Nay land use.
Roads, particularly dirt roads, were constructed throughout Tse Keh Nay territory during the first gold rush in the 1860s to accommodate pack horses and wagons of mining prospectors.
Dusty roads began to appear throughout the region bringing miners, loggers and other visitors into the area. However, Tse Keh Nay territory remained fairly inaccessible to the general public and to the resource extraction industries until the building of the Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway brought new economic opportunities to the region as well as an influx of tourists, big game hunters and fishermen. The completion of the Hart Highway through McLeod Lake and Summit Lake added to this traffic. Forestry and mining companies built roads that crisscrossed the mountain slopes of every region, increasing erosion and impacting sensitive habitats and animal migrations. The impact of the Sloan Connector Road on Tse
Keh Nay territory was noted by William Charlie:
[B]ecause I have been a guide for hunters for twenty-two years, I know that people who want to hunt and fish use whatever roads are available to get into new areas. When there is a new area opened up, there is huge number of people who want to got here and hunt before the animals are killed off. The better the road into that area, the more people come because the travel is easier and the more animals are killed. (Affidavit 1997, para 55) The road to McKenzie and along the Williston Reservoir has caused dusting and pollution of large parts of Tse Keh Nay territory, and road kill of many animals.
Railroads also increased traffic in the region. The railway at Fort St. John was a boon to the forestry and mining industries. Once it connected to Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd the region became even more attractive for resource extraction. The railway through the Takla Lake Reserves had a number of negative impacts, including increased logging activity, the destruction of ancient rock paintings, injuries to Takla Lake members, access problems at railway crossings, pollution, increased risks from the transportation of hazardous goods
through communities and loss of Reserve land. William George says:
When the railroad was built all the game left this area. Logging also began here when the railroad was built, in around 1973. The logging also drove the game away. (Affidavit 1997; para 7)
3.4 W.A.C. Bennett Dam The construction of the W.A.C. Bennet dam had a massive impact on Tse Keh Nay land and its people. In 1957, Premier W.A.C. Bennett announced to the world that “the greatest hydroelectric power project in the world… would produce four million horsepower and create a reservoir 250 miles long that could change the climate of the north” (Pollon 1989:192). At that time the main concern was the impact of the dam on Fraser River fish stocks. Little thought was given to what it would do to Tse Keh Nay communities. It was not until 1962 that the Department of Indian Affairs informed BC Hydro of the devastating impact this project might have upon Tse Keh Nay lives.
Loss of the age-old pursuit of trapping and hunting either wholly or in part, constitutes a real problem to those who follow this vocation. Replacement is virtually impossible. While traplines encompass many square miles, flooding usually annexes the productive low-lying areas including trails, trapsets and in many cases, cabins…Older trappers among them women, set in their ways and unskilled in present day crafts, are the main victims of this proposed change.
(Koyl 1992: 86-87) The dam eventually flooded not only a 168 acre reserve but 640 square miles of productive Tse Keh Nay traditional territory. The old settlement of Fort Grahame ceased to be. Villages, sacred sites, hunting grounds and trap lines were flooded and it was the end of hunting, fishing, trapping, and life as they knew it.
Most notably, the dam and the lake had a damaging impact upon the wildlife in the area. It is estimated that the dam, which inundated approximately 1400 square kilometers of Class 1 to 3 habitats, resulted in the loss of 12,500 moose (Harris 1984:46). Other wildlife was also affected including bear, beaver, marmot, squirrel, etc. Figures for the loss of wildlife are unknown but they are considered substantial, especially in view of the fact that the flooding occurred in the spring when animals were having their young. Fish stocks were impacted as well. Artic grayling, mountain white fish and rainbow trout declined because of unsuitable habitat. They have been replaced by Dolly Varden, kokanee, lake trout, ling and other species. However, many of these fish are contaminated by mercury or other pollutants and are not safe to consume.
The dam ended a traditional way of life for many Tse Keh Nay people. Places that people had known their whole lives were now gone: hunting grounds, trap lines, trails, cabins, houses, safe places to cache food, berry patches, places associated with names and stories were now completely underwater.
When people were first informed about the flooding they did not understand its full impact or how it was going to change their lives. When it occurred it was a tremendous shock and left many distressed as they saw their lands disappear. According to a Tse Keh Nay who
remembered the time:
The Sekannis were told their houses would be burned, but their belongings would be put in a safe place where the men could pick them up. They burned our houses with everything in them. Some of the men had guns and stuff underneath the floorboards, so nobody would know where they were, and all that was burned. And our pots and pans. Everything. There were five houses, our church and everything, burned in Fort Grahame, and another five or six houses burned-six houses to be correct-right here in Ingenika Point (Pollon & Matheson 1989:338) Grave sites were also lost causing great anguish. Many gravesites were located along trap lines. All are now underwater. The graveyard at Fort Graham was flooded. The graveyard at Ingenika Point was moved inland but BC Hydro underestimated the extent of the flooding and
the new graveyard slid into the reservoir. As one Tse Keh Nay remembers:
They [BC Hydro] told us they were going to take the bones out and take them down to the Parsnip reserve and rebury them. I think they just made a mass grave there, of all the bones of our peoples. We don’t know who’s where or anything. I mean, nobody likes their dead to be desecrated. Because the graveyards are sacred places. (Pollon & Matheson1989:343-344) Offers of cash and land were eventually made in compensation for the lost reserves but the new reserves offered were inappropriate to the needs of the Tse Keh Nay. They were unable to trap in the surrounding areas that were either flooded or logged or devoid of game. The community dispersed with one third moving north to live at Fort Ware. The reserve issue was not resolved until 1989, but new reserves have still not been confirmed. The Tse Keh Nay people who once lived at Fort Grahame are considered squatters on their own lands by the federal government.
As well as losing all they had, many Tse Keh Nay people were separated from their relatives due to the creation of an artificial lake that made transportation difficult. Many Tse Keh Nay lament the fact that the dam has created a huge barrier because of ‘the plug’ - floating debris and log jams that occur on the upper end of the reservoir. The following warning is posted on
the BC Hydro Recreation online site:
Williston Reservoir is a very large and potentially hazardous reservoir for the unwary. Boaters are cautioned that when the reservoir is not at its maximum level, snags and stumps may lie just below the water surface. Floating and submerged debris may be encountered in all areas of the reservoir. Boaters should also be aware of strong winds that occur suddenly, causing high waves (over 2 metres) and strong currents.
The banks of the reservoir are easily eroded and subject to sloughing from reservoir actions. If wave action is severe and you need to reach shore, it may be difficult to make a safe landing due to cliffs, unstable banks and/ or floating or submerged debris along the shoreline.
Snowmobiling and other winter activities are common on Williston Lake.
When using the frozen surface of the reservoir extreme caution must be exercised as winter hazards include pressure ridges, gas holes, open water, and broken shoreline ice. Rapid temperature changes that may cause ice melt and extreme cold and wind are also hazards to the wintertime users. (BC Hydro 2005) The Williston Reservoir had many other impacts. The flooding resulted in mercury poisoning in the water. Many of the fish in the reservoir are now unfit for human consumption. The rapidly changing level of the Reservoir has created severe dust problems. When the waters fall, large amounts of dust particulate from the barren shoreline and subsurface are carried into the community at the Tsay Keh Dene Village. Many members and Elders have respiratory and skin problems from this dust and are forced to wear dust masks in their own homes.
3.5 Current Impacts of Forestry and Mining Over the last decade the Tse Keh Nay have voiced their concerns about the negative impacts of forestry and mining in their territory. The following quotes speak to the issues and explain why the Tse Keh Nay believe they must save Amazay Lake.
[D]uring the 50’s and 60’s, the logging was starting to interfere more and more with our people’s way of life. In the early 1950’s the logging companies started to clear cut large pieces of land…and in the early 1970’s it came into Takla and our kayohs. This made many of the lands in which we hunted, fished and trapped the wrong kind of place for the animals or fish to live. As a result, the animals were being pushed up the valleys into less developed areas and hunting and fishing generally was not as good as it used to be. (Affidavit 1997: para 33) [N]ow, logging has come up Stuart Lake so far that most of the moose have been driven away at Takla as well. This means that when we are wintering at Takla, we have to travel further in our territory up to Thutade Lake to get Moose for our sustenance. (Affidavit 1997: para 47) Don’t see much groundhog around any more – you have to harvest them to keep them plenty – hardly see robins, sparrows, squirrels – moose and caribou are depleting– moose are getting meaner – usually a gentle animal maybe stress of noise maybe the logging. Grouse and pygmy owl are gone. (Tse Keh Nay 2006)
I have hunted and trapped all my life and I have seen tremendous changes in our people’s way of life. Before logging and mines came in to our area, there was lots of wildlife. After the logging and the mines come in, the wildlife is chased away because of the noise of the machinery, the industry, and also because their habitat is taken away. (Affidavit 1997: para 26)
The animals go away if there is machinery operating, because they don’t like the noise. Newborn animals don’t like the noise. The beaver and other animals get killed by the trucks. Some animals die out when they move to different area- like marten, wolverine, and big game. (Affidavit 1997: para 6) 3.5.2 Mines in the Area Many of the Elders also speak to the impact of mining in the area and its effects upon the caribou.
[D]own at the Cheni Mines which is close to Takla, the mining has stopped.
The mine company did not put the land back into the condition that it was.
Last year, there was hunting taking place for caribou down at the Cheni mines and the caribou from that area were gutted to find that the stomach and intestines were green and yellow as if they had been poisoned… the only place that the caribou could get poisoned is at the old tailing pond. It looks as if the caribou have been drinking from that tailing pond… because the caribou have been poisoned, we cannot eat that poisoned meat and therefore the people are afraid to hunt caribou near a mine because we have seen with out own eyes that the animals are poisoned. (Affidavit 1997: para 61, 62, 63)