150 Mile House resident Neil J. Sterritt has won the 2017 BC Book Prizes Roderick Haig-Brown Award for his book Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History published by Creekstone Press.
The Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize recognizes authors of the nominated book that contributes most to the enjoyment and understanding of British Columbia.
Sterritt is a prominent Gitxsan leader who moved to 150 Mile House with his wife Barbara in 2009 to be close to family.
“It was a lovely weekend,” Sterritt said of the awards banquet that took place at the Pinnacle Hotel in Vancouver Saturday evening. “You don’t get many like that.”
In Mapping My Way Home, Sterritt traces the journeys of the European explorers and adventurers who came to take advantage of the opportunities that converged at the junction of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers.
Today the villages of Gitanmaax and Hazelton form one of the most picturesque communities in all of western Canada — a tiny, tourism mecca nestled in Gitxsan territory at the foot of an iconic mountain in the heart of the Skeena watershed.
But 150 years ago these neighbouring villages were the economic hub of the north when packers, traders, explorers, miners, surveyors and hundreds of tons of freight passed through from Port Essington on the coast east to the Omineca gold fields, from Quesnel north to Telegraph Creek.
In recounting this history with stories and photographs Sterritt also shares the stories of his people, stories both ancient and recent, to illustrate their resilience when faced with the challenges the newcomers brought.
And he shares his own journey from the wooden sidewalks of 1940s Hazelton to the world of international mining and back again to the Gitxsan ancestral village site of Temlaham where he helped his people fight for what had always been theirs in the ground-breaking Delgamuukw court case.
Sterritt said he has worked in First Nations leadership training and governance most of his life. He moved to Ottawa in 1988 to work as director of land claims and self government with the Assembly of First Nations.
Three years later he moved back to Hazelton where his father Neil B. Sterritt is a hereditary chief of one of the First Nations houses.
He said he and Barbara will be driving up to Hazelton this week to visit his father who will turn 104 in August.
The Sterritts chose to live in Williams Lake because they have a son here with his family and a son who lives in Kamloops with his family.
Sterritt says his historical connections to the Williams Lake area also go back to when his great-grandfather and great-great grandfather established and owned the original 122 Mile Ranch at Lac La Hache. Their last name was Starrett but they are the same family, Sterritt notes.
Creekstone Press publisher Lynn Sharvill who published the book said they asked Sterritt to write his story 10 years ago.
“We’ve been friends for 30 years,” Sharvill said in congratulating Sterritt on his win.
“It’s just fantastic.”
Sterritt is also one of five finalists selected for the British Columbia Historical Federation’s annual Historical Writing Competition.