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