Monica Lamb-Yorski photo Moments after being made an Esk’etemec hereditary chief, Francis Johnson Jr. (left) thanks Kenneth Linde for his gift of ranch land, water rights and a ranch house to his community during a declaration of title and rights ceremony and celebration held Monday, May 8.

Rancher gifts land to Esk’etemc during title and rights ceremony

After walking away from the B.C. Treaty process two years ago Esk’etemec First Nation is declaring its title and rights.

In a surprise move a Cariboo rancher has donated his land to Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) First Nation after being a neighbour of the community for more than 50 years.

Kenneth Linde, 86, bought the land in 1961 and is giving 50 per cent of 640 acres, the woodlot and the water rights to Esk’etemc.

Grand Chief Ed John described Linde’s gesture as a “remarkable act of reconciliation.”

“It’s significant because now there’s dialogue in this country about reconciliation and rather than talking about it he is doing something about it,” John said.

Chief Charlene Belleau announced Linde’s gift during a declaration of Esk’etemc title and rights ceremony and celebration held Monday, May 8 in the community at the Sxoxomic Gymnasium.

Belleau said Linde had called the band office asking her to meet him at his ranch and surprised her with his offer.

“He said ‘I’m 86 years old and I can’t look after the land anymore,’ and I want to give it to your people,” Belleau said. “He said ‘it was always your land, I’m giving it back to the people. I thought ‘wow’.”

As he stood there draped in a blanket presented to him by the community, the community honoured him with a song, hugs and handshakes.

“Look after the waters on the land,” Linde told the crowd.

After the presentation Linde told the Tribune he was thankful for the appreciation shown him by Esk’etemc.

“I think it’s wonderful, but I didn’t expect anything like this,” he said. “I’ve given it away because I cannot look after it and someone else has to look after it.”

Up until a year and a half ago, Linde was still working on the ranch when he fell off his skidder and broke his pelvis and pulled muscles in his legs.

He hasn’t been able to do any physical labour since.

Linde said he was one of three brothers who came from Oregon to the Cariboo and set up the Linde Mill.

“I was only 21 at the time,” he said. “I am the last one of the brothers.”

Two years ago Esk’etemc members mandated the band council to leave the BC Treaty process and on Monday celebrated the next step in declaring title and rights.

Hundreds of people attended the celebration, which began with a traditional pipe ceremony.

Many were dressed in regalia and holding ceremonial staffs or feathers.

During the celebration Francis Johnson Jr. who grew up in the community and works as a forester with Alkali Resource Management became a hereditary chief.

He received the war headdress that was his grandfather Charlie Thomas Johnson’s when we he was a hereditary chief.

Francis’s father, Francis Johnson Sr., said he had anticipated the moment and more than 15 years ago commissioned a painting of his father Charlie wearing the headdress which he presented to his son.

Francis Johnson Jr. joins existing hereditary Chiefs Irvine Johnson and Wilfred Robbins and said before the elected system was introduced in 1970, there was a traditional governance structure in place that involved several chiefs — chief of dances, hunting, war and spirituality, grand chiefs and the women had a lot of authority.

“We went to an elected system in 1970 until now,” he said. “Now it’s a two-tier system. We are still going to have chief and council running all the administrative things like health, but decisions about the land will be made by all the family representatives who were presented today.”

In the afternoon the families participated in a grand entry and then formed a huge circle around all the Sxoxomic School students.

“Our children have asked us to be able to leave behind any pain and hurt, to be able to be responsible and move ahead and take care of our lands, take care of our resources, take care of our waters for them so that when they grow up they are going to ready to take on the responsibility,” Bealleau said.

“Thank you Sxoxomic School children for showing us the way.”

Bealleau said the children were growing up in sober homes whereas 40 years ago then Chief Irvine Johnson led the decision to make theirs a dry reserve.

The celebration and ceremony showed how the community is tying itself back to the land in a significant way, Grand Chief Ed John said.

“The churches and governments for a long time tried to disconnect us from our land, languages and culture,” John said.

“Today I see the effort of the people here to reorganize themselves and rethink according to their teachings and values, connecting back to each other as families, community and connecting back to their songs and drums and more importantly to the land.”