Beauty and strength together.
That’s how Bev Wassenaar, a senior advisor with First Nations Relations with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO), described Ctsenmewsctem re Stsmemelt– Showing the Way for the Children, a newly-released film about Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake).
Wassenaar was one of about 100 personnel from various government ministries from Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Quesnel who attended a special-invite event held at the Gibraltar Room recently to screen the film, hear a panel discussion with Esk’etemc hereditary chiefs Francis Johnson Jr. and Wilfred Robbins Sr., and the Headmen (elected) Chief Fred Robbins, Robert Johnson, William Chelsea Sr. and Patricia Chelsea.
“It’s very rare for beauty and strength to come together and that’s what I saw today,” Wassenaar said of the film.
Chief Robbins said the key message he wanted people to take away was that his community needs to start exercising its rights and title on the land.
“We don’t want to live inside the little box Indian Affairs put us in,” Robbins said.
Mike Pedersen, regional executive director with the FLNRO, thanked the panel for allowing them to be there and work through what they saw in the film.
“For me the story that I heard around the culture and the language and the rooting of that culture and language is a piece that when I’m having conversations with the communities there’s a gap for me there. I’m looking at it, I’m trying to appreciate and understand it and then know how I need to have a conversation with the communities knowing that’s what roots those communities.”
Pedersen said he thinks all of them who are working in government strive to work through that gap and even understand what they think the gap is.
Responding William Chelsea Sr. said that gap is going to be there for a long time.
“We’ve moved back after being under the Department of Indian Affairs for so long and all the other government departments, like forestry, to fill in the culture that we lost,” Chelsea said.
Chief Robbins said the community was in the treaty process for a long time but never saw any results.
Eventually a referendum was held during a band election and 82 per cent voted against pursuing a treaty, 12 per cent said no, and 12 per cent said yes.
Additionally, 87 per cent of the community voted in favour of having both a traditional style and elected system of government.
“Hopefully I’ve closed that gap for you and you have an understanding of where we are at with that,” Robbins said. “For now the treaty process is on the shelf, and we have both styles of government working together and that way the whole community can be involved in a lot of decisions that are made in the future.”
Mark Hamm, deputy manager of the Cariboo Fire Centre, said it was great to see people like Arthur Dick and Andy Chelsea honoured in the film.
“I think the film presented in a very articulate matter Esk’etemc’s world view,” Hamm said. “Thinking about that world view and the world view of the global economy, and Mr. Trump, that we’re all working in. Between the two there’s a space, and whether that’s a gap that needs to be filled or whether it’s an exciting space where we can come to figure out how we work together in that space, it’s a good thing.”
Hereditary Chief Francis Johnson Jr. said the community embarked on healing journey 40 years ago.
“We are still dealing with poverty,” he added. “The average income is $14,000 so we get all the problems that come with poverty.”