A Dakelh story for the new millennium



According to the linear manner in which the western world measures time, the Year 1000 to the near present would have seen our ancestors in this region carrying on as they had done since time immemorial. They would have traversed these mountains, valleys and waterways on a seasonal basis in order to locate to hunting areas and fishing sites, all the while enjoying other benefits of the land.

Sometime during this period the allocation of vital territories came under the governance of the Balhats (potlatch system). For us, as Dakelh-ne (Carrier people), the Bahlats evolved into a foundation of our culture. It provided a special forum for our ancestral clan leaders and their members to meet in front of witnesses to claim and renew ties to the land, all of which affirmed their jurisdiction, roles and responsibilities. These ties were sacred covenants handed down to them by their ancestors.

Songs and stories as old as any spoken history accompanied these covenants—equivalent to today's legal contracts. These songs and stories were also memoirs of the land. They articulated a harmony with the teachings of our long ago ancestors. These old ones, who had a masterful knowledge of water, snow, plants, animals, and how to cooperate with others, passed on their important teachings to the young to ensure the people's survival. Thus, these teachings nourished the people in a world that understood birth as one point of the cycle and death as preceding it, and the stages of life but emulations of seasons.

And so while the seasons are predictable, providing a sense of security in their sureness, the unpredictability of people is what changes human and physical landscapes. This is what happened to our ancestors when the first whites came here just under two hundred years ago, bringing with them bewildering ideas that drastically changed our people and this land.

The results of these strange ideas on our ways are well documented in our elders' stories and the newcomers' written histories. These ideas and their implementation set off a domino effect we are all still contending with today, as the calendar rolls over from 1999 to 2000.


What will lie ahead for us as Dakelh-ne in the new millennium is a mystery, just as what will happen to us as we approach the Year 2001 is a mystery, but only much less so.

What is unknown for us about the immediate future is, will the people of Canada and British Columbia allow us to reestablish our place on this land under the security of a constitutionally protected treaty?

Will we be able to remain dependent, as is our choice, on the bounty of the forests, plants, animals and fish that grace our lands and waterways, relatively free of the destructive patterns of environmental degradation?

Will we be able to determine our destiny as distinct and dignified Dakelh-ne with a lasting language and culture alongside the enticements of the newcomers' culture?

The answers are not easy to grasp. We want to ensure a positive place for ourselves on our lands as we have always enjoyed before full-scale colonization took its toll on us. To do this will require the cooperation of the governments of Canada and British Columbia. Their agreement with or opposition to our goals can either make or break us.

Although realizing our goals often appears dim and discouraging, there are nevertheless signs leading us to hope.

For instance, since 1987 we have signed a number of agreements with the federal and provincial governments that have us delivering health, childcare and legal services to our people. We now work to bring health to all aspects of an individual's being, for we know healthy people are vital to achieving our goals.

In 1994, we signed the first of two successive five-year fishery agreements with the federal government that has us putting some of our people to work in areas of fish habitat restoration, stock rebuilding and counting, plus other related activities on our traditional lands.

Over the past few decades our communities have completed various infrastructure projects that allow them some quality of life.

Our people are increasingly learning about the economic benefits of manufacturing wood products for the world market place; at the same time, we offer timeless land-use decisions as alternatives to today's unduly destructive logging practises.

We have an increasing number of post-secondary graduates emerging from our communities. Meanwhile, we work to ensure there is meaningful employment for them related to achieving our goals. These graduates are also readying themselves for the general workforce.

Yet, we still face opposition in these crucial areas: self-government, economic development, environmental health and protection, and childhood education.

Under a treaty we have been attempting to negotiate with Canada and British Columbia since 1994 we need decision-making powers and natural resources in accordance with our legally acknowledged aboriginal title which will make our communities good places to live; that is, that they be self-sufficient and sustainable in accordance with our self-government model based on the Balhats.

As part of our economic security we will always hunt, fish and gather in accordance with our legally acknowledged aboriginal rights. Furthermore, we believe our traditional activities will guarantee the health of the land, for we would make healthy habitats for forests, plants, animals and fish a priority.

We also need enforceable powers to ensure industrial development on our lands will not unduly jeopardize the quality of human and non-human life and the economic future of our children and that of our non-Dakelh neighbours.

Distressingly, we report two examples of what our communities face on a day-to-day basis as we arrive at the doorstep of the new millennium. First, many of our people's homes have mold-related problems that are causing them serious illnesses. Second, one of our communities faces undrinkable water and is struggling to have this problem properly rectified. These serious problems are only two of many our communities face, and they occur while the natural wealth around them benefits all but them, making for an intolerable and frustrating situation.

Our young children are our future. What goes into their minds is what comes out of their mouths and is what shapes their hearts. We need to have a large measure of control over our children's education, and so we need to achieve this through a treaty or pending this through local education agreements with school districts. We cannot afford undue conflicts over this issue; time as embodied in the hearts of our young is not on our side.

Finally, as we enter another millennium we agree with the Supreme Court of Canada in its recent Delgamuukw Decision, that "we are all here to stay." However, our question to the non-Dakelh people in this region is, how long do you want to stay? Our people have been here for untold generations. Do you see yourselves alongside us being here for as long? We think we can do it together for we have a lot to offer. Our values of respect for the environment, for all life, can benefit Canadian society, especially women, children and the aged.

So while our goals for ourselves are modest we believe they hold answers for all.