The camp was about reclaiming our right as young Indigenous people to be in our territory, in this Peace River Valley, tucked far into the North East corner of British Columbia. We did not want the proposed Site C Hydro Dam then, we do not want it now.
“No I don’t remember,” Emily replied.
We stood on the soft snow on our way back to camp. We had just put a sign up to notify Hydro workers that this was Treaty 8 Territory and they were trespassing.
“He told us about how when he was young he remembers camping somewhere while they were travelling by horse. At night they heard weeping coming from the forest around them and they didn’t know who it was,” I said, as I stopped to watch snow gently fall from the branches of a nearby spruce tree.
“He said that when they went back to that spot again, maybe a year or so later, that forest was gone. It had been cleared for a road. It was the forest crying because it knew what was coming.”
“Yeah. Yeah it is.” I echoed her words.
We had just left where BC Hydro started to clear on the West side of the Moberly River. We walked over to the crude bridge that they had built to cross the frozen river with their equipment. I had to see it up close for my own eyes and I had to lay an offering of tobacco for the land, for its suffering and loss.
The day before we packed up my little SUV, three of us in total, Trenton, Emily, and myself. Each from a different First Nations community in the region, all with the same understanding that land and water is important. Trenton tells me a story on the drive about how nothing compares to the smile his Grandma gives him when he gives her rabbits he snares. He snared her three rabbits the other day. Trenton is eighteen and the land, the animals, the water, they are all essential for his way of life.
We were going to ring the New Year in at the Rocky Mountain Fort Camp, a historical site where one of the earliest trade post settlements in BC was built. It’s located at the end of a maze of backroads and a skidoo ride or trek down the mountain. This would be a New Years to Remember.
Ken Boon, an amazing individual who lives in the Valley and who has long since been opposing the Site C dam met us at the top with his skidoo and brought our load of gear in. They set up the camp within the previous month and that day (December 31st) they had a small shack that had been insulated flown in via helicopter.
When we arrived to camp we found new no trespassing signs (not ours) posted on trees and an eviction notice posted by hydro on to the shack. Apparently we had twenty four hours before forced removal would happen. It was just a big scare tactic from a corporate bully.
They have no right to remove us from our own land. Our own territory.
We settled in to camp. Trenton helped with firewood, Emily unpacked, and I settled into the role of camp mom/cook/organizer and made coffee and chilli. When they sky grew dark (we are taking around 5:30 in the north) we waited a bit then began to shoot off fireworks, and when that was over we played cards in the shack. Ken, excused himself to bed and the three of us stayed up talking until the New Year came in.
With the final minute left we all jumped outside and stared up at the stars. The stars of our ancestors. That is how we rang in the New Year, with the stars overhead and the trees surrounding us as silent witnesses.
In the morning, while the sun was rising I walked down to the water, there was a frozen inlet between us and the Peace River, which never freezes because of the two Hydro Dams that already exist on it. I stood on the ice, with willows and sparse brush surrounding me, and watched the sun rise and prayed. There is no beauty, no peace like that. Get it? Peace.. because we were on the Peace River.
I began to look around me and started to notice all the rabbit trails that looped this way and that way. I listened to the birds that flitted around in the nearby trees. I thought of the grouse and the coyote we seen just a short distance away. There is so much life in this valley. My Asu (Grandma) is set on showing my son how to set snares for rabbits but the few times we went out we couldn’t find any rabbit trails or signs of them. I heard someone say that the rabbit is a “marker species”, meaning that when shit starts heading south environmentally you will notice because the rabbits will be gone. Well the rabbits may be harder to find in some areas but they are here, but for how long will they have a home here too?
I think of Trenton, his smiling Grandmother, and a pot of rabbit soup.
When we make it to the bridge later that morning I show Emily how to make a tobacco offering and we walk down to the frozen Moberly River (which leads into the Peace River) and we pray together. I look up after I place my offering down and the Hydro security guy is outside of his truck recording me on his phone. I say a prayer for him too.
An “Indian” saying a prayer must be a fearful thing indeed. I fight back the urge to yell, “My medicine game is strong!” and do some ominous hand movements, pretending that I just laid some wild old Indian curse.
I leave everyone at the bridge, (we had a plus one, Bob F. showed up that morning to come with us) and walk into the lost forest. .The tears are welling up in my eyes, I see, I feel how real this is and I am filled with a great sorrow. It is a sorrow your spirit feels, and a part of me wants to break down and sob into the earth. Let my tears mix with the soil. But a part of me says that doing so is acceptance of what they are doing, and what they are doing must stop.
The security man, still posted in his vehicle pops his head out to remind us that we need to “stay on your side of the bridge”. Everyone trickles towards me and we begin to hang our own signs telling them that this is Treaty 8 Territory. Eventually another man joins the lone ranger on the bridge and walks over to “our side”.
Bob piped up, “Better stay on your side of the bridge!”
I notice the man is recording us, and begins to talk to Bob about the eviction notice and that is when I walked over.
“My site supervisor and I posted a notice. You are aware that you have twenty four hours to vacate…” his voice goes on.
“I have a right to be here you know?” I said to the man. He is white but the lone ranger is Native and he stands beside him.
“You have been notified that you must break down your camp…” the white man with a camera in my face continued, trying to talk over my voice.
“I am a Treaty Eight member and this is my traditional territory. I have a right to be here and to camp here and we will continue to do so. Under the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has ratified, you have to have Free Prior and Informed Consent. This here is our territory, and there are court cases in progress. I have a right to be here. You can’t tell me otherwise. One of my Great grandpas signed the Treaty so that I could be here,” I said pointing at the ground, as I talk, I watch the shock of the Native Lone Rangers face and he moves slowly behind the White man.
I don’t know if that shock is that I am there or that he feels that he is on the wrong side and wants to hide. I feel sad for him, because I know that work is work and it puts food on the tables of our people. But for how long? Until the job lasts and then what? Our children and great grandchildren will feel the ramifications of these actions. I think of my Asu’s (grandma) words about how the Dreamers spoke about hard times to come and how he feels sorry for us that will be alive. What if that is preventable to some measure? This is not just about us and hydro and being right or wrong… it’s about the future we are stealing for those who come after us.
The short sightedness of colonialism never fails to astound me.
I made Emily pose for this photo with me:
“Why?” she asked me.
“Because Emily, we are still living in the shadows of colonization. Look at this, look around us this is what happens even when we are saying no. This is why we are here, to stop us from having to live in the shadows on our own land,” I said.
We need more of our own members of the Treaty 8 Territory to volunteer to man the camp on shift shedules. You can contact me as I will begin keeping a schedule for rotation @ email@example.com Members from across the border (the Dam effects those all along the Peace River) , and Indigenous people from elsewhere welcome too.
As camp grows we will need more living structures as well (IE canvas wall tents with wood stoves. I will have more once am able to talk to the other organizers.
*note: all conversations are from memory, some may be slightly paraphrased but all hold the main points of the conversations and exchanges.