Students from Cheslatta Carrier Nation paused from their work —building log cabins with chainsaws — to address the crowd of people who travelled to the Southside on March 28 for the grand opening of a new training centre.
“What we’ve learned here in the past two weeks has been so amazing,” said Stanley Jack, a member of Cheslatta Carrier Nation. He was one of the students who completed the two-week construction course, among the first programs to be offered at the new training centre.
Students of all ages took part in the program, learning to craft two truckloads of rough timber into a pair of dwelling that were nearing completion after just ten days. They received certificates during a ceremony that marked the centre’s official opening.
Corrina Leween, chief of Cheslatta Carrier Nation, said many of the courses at the centre will be geared toward fostering economic activity in the area. She also stressed the importance of traditional language and culture.
“We’ve got maybe five elders who speak the fluent Cheslatta dialect of Carrier,” she said. “We really need to capture that before it’s gone forever.”
As part of the ceremony, a memorandum of agreement was signed between Cheslatta Carrier Nation and the College of New Caledonia (CNC).
Henry Reiser, president of the CNC, said the centre may serve as the site of a pilot project for distance education. The facility contains a lab with about a dozen new computer terminals.
Many people from Cheslatta Carrier Nation have trouble accessing the Burns Lake CNC campus due to its location across François Lake, said Mike Robertson, senior policy advisor for Cheslatta Carrier Nation. “This facility is really going to help with continuity of education,” he said.
The walls were adorned with motivational posters with messages like “Walk proudly.” But most significant was a placard dedicating the centre to Cheslatta Carrier Nation’s elders and those who went before them. “It’s what our ancestors wanted,” Leween said of the centre.
As for the log cabins, Leween said the structures would be transported to Cheslatta Lake — part of a long-term plan to bring people from the community back to their traditional lands. The area was flooded in 1952 for the construction of the Kenney Dam to power the Alcan smelter in Kitimat, displacing the Cheslatta people. The dam and smelter are now owned by Rio Tinto, which was among the various businesses that paid for the new training centre.