Let’s let them rest

I was asked to take pictures of the Cheslatta Nation people having to remove the Spirit Houses from two graveyards.


On Sept. 29, 2011, I was asked to take pictures of the Cheslatta Nation people having to remove the Spirit Houses from two graveyards located at the old village sites on Cheslatta Lake. The cemetery at Chief Louie’s old village at Skatchola at Indian Reserve number seven, has about 35 remaining graves.

The large cemetery Belgatchek at Indian Reserve number five, has about 110 graves, each covered by a wooden Spirit House.

The Cheslatta people were informed by Rio Tinto Alcan on Sept. 28 that the Nechako Reservoir at Ootsa Lake was filled to capacity and the flood gates at Skin’s Lake Spillway had to be opened to the maximum.

This meant that their Cheslatta  ancestors’ grave sites were to be put under water again for the fourth time in 59 years. The last time was in 2007 and they were told that they wouldn’t have to do it again.

Here they were rushing to beat the tide once more, with just a few hours notice.

I have never taken part in anything like this before. I have always just heard about these ongoing battles the Aboriginal people have to deal with.

Seeing the work and money that goes into having to remove these Spirit Houses every time the waters rise above capacity, not to mention the emotion that is also involved, was heart wrenching.

If my grandmother’s grave was flooded, I wouldn’t be a very happy camper.

These ancestors have long been laid to rest.

Shouldn’t we leave them be and have respect for those who have passed on.

The last time the lake was flooded, some of the bodies of the Cheslatta people were washed away into the lake.

So many other graves were disturbed as well. Seeing all the Spirit Houses and learning about the people under them was very intriguing. There was one row of about seven miniature houses.  I later found out that these little Spirit Houses belonged to young children.

Back in the 1930s an outbreak of measles went through and a huge percentage of the children were wiped out. Chief Louie was buried in the Skatchola grave yard in 1951 and in 1952 his body was moved to a cemetery at the west end of the lake, where the Cheslatta were told he would be safe.  A few other bodies were moved as well.

The water then rose higher than expected and Chief Louie and about 60 other bodies were washed away into the lake. No longer in their resting spot.

Now only a metal cross sits where each Spirit House once rested, marking the bodies of many loved ones. In the spring, the houses will be put back on the graves and I pray that they will never have to be moved again.

Let’s let them rest.


Sharla Martens, Burns Lake