Approximately 200 people gathered by the shore of Cheslatta Lake on Sept. 12, 2016 to welcome B.C. premier Christy Clark, the first premier ever to visit the Southside.
Clark was there to sign a framework agreement between the provincial government and Cheslatta Carrier Nation (CCN), which was designed to help heal historic wounds and shape a better future.
It has been more than 60 years since the Cheslatta people were displaced from their homes and cultural sites to make way for construction of Kenny Dam in northwestern B.C. Over the past 63 years, CCN regularly recover skeletal remains of their ancestors on the lakeshore and estimate that more than 60 Cheslatta graves have been destroyed.
The premier’s visit included seeing first-hand one of the graveyards that has been subject to the almost yearly flooding.
“What an incredible honour to be welcomed so warmly by a community that was treated with such profound injustice by aprevious provincial government,” said Clark. “We cannot change history, but working together, we can create more opportunity and sustainable prosperity for the Cheslatta people.”
During her visit, Clark connected with Cheslatta members – including children -, offering to take photos with them and asking about their lives. The historic framework agreement was signed on the hood of a truck, honouring a longtime Cheslatta tradition.
Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween said she believes this agreement is a significant milestone for the Cheslatta community.
“I’m excited, emotional and pleased,” said Chief Leween. “The recognition and willingness of the provincial government to resolve this ongoing issue between the Cheslatta and B.C. gives me confidence that, as a community leader, I can move mypeople forward with dignity toward a long-term resolution.”
Through the framework agreement, CCN and the province will explore economic opportunities in the resource sector, power infrastructure to support future industrial development, cultural, heritage and training initiatives and financial payments. The potential transfers of Crown land and resource-use tenures for economic and social development will also be examined.
The purchase of private land for community expansion and economic development will be considered, but only on a willing seller, willing buyer basis. Overall, the framework agreement provides CCN with early benefits up to a maximum of $2.3million.
Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations Shane Gottfriedson, First Nations Summit’s Grand Chief Edward John and John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, were on hand and also spoke during the event.
“In true partnership, we’re going to be looking at ways to address flooding issues in Cheslatta lands and seeking agreement on measures to improve their economic prospects and quality of life,” said Rustad.
Lakes District News asked premier Clark if she believes the provincial government and Canada will eventually be able to undo the harm that was done to Aboriginal Peoples by previous governments and help heal those relationships.
“I think we are heading in the right direction,” said Clark. “What I see is more and more First Nations like Cheslatta, who want to go down the path of reconciliation. It takes two to want to do it. And we have to, we have to heal these wounds. We should never forget them, but we have to find a way to get past them and change the future.”
“I think we’re on the path to a great future together, but it takes two sides, and Cheslatta [members] have the courage to do that.”