Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot’in Nation is pictured at Farwell Canyon, B.C. Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot’in Nation is pictured at Farwell Canyon, B.C. Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Fraser River slide has ‘huge’ impact on community: Tl’etinqox chief

Alphonse estimated up to 170,000 sockeye returned to local tributaries this year

High on the Chilcotin plateau in British Columbia’s Interior, the chief of a local First Nation says the traditional diet of its members is threatened by a landslide more than 150 kilometre away.

Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse, who also represents five other local nations as tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, says Fraser River tributaries once teeming with salmon have shown paltry returns since the Big Bar landslide was discovered in June.

“On a good year, you can run across the river on the backs of sockeye, that’s how thick our rivers are. And bright, bright, bright almost fluorescent orange colour, it’s an awesome sight,” he said.

Alphonse estimated up to 170,000 sockeye returned to local tributaries this year where the annual average is closer to one million.

While the slide occurred in the traditional territory of the High Bar and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nations, the Tsilhqot’in are among another 140 First Nations that the federal government has said could also feel the effects.

Members are concerned Ottawa isn’t doing enough to prevent further damage to stocks, and that the public may not realize there is still a crisis because salmon runs are finished for the season, he said.

READ MORE: First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

On Nov. 15, the Tsilhqot’in government sent a letter to the office of the fisheries minister requesting an update on the department’s progress, including monitoring and contingency plans should mitigation fail.

The letter asks for immediate updates when work barriers are encountered, in the interest of a “collective and transparent approach.”

Stocks already faced challenges of historic overfishing and habitat loss and the landslide could prove an extirpating blow, Alphonse said.

The possible loss of salmon, combined with a decline in moose populations because of the 2017 wildfires, means wild meats are scarce in region.

“A lot of our people live way under what the Canadian society would consider the poverty line, but a lot of our people are able to do that because they can still obtain a lot of their sustenance through hunting and fishing,” he said.

Fishing also plays an important cultural role in the community, and five months of the local calendar year are named for salmon or trout, Alphonse said.

“It’s huge, huge, huge, the impact on my community,” he said.

The Tsilhqot’in aren’t alone in calling for more action.

On Monday, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued a media release on behalf of the First Nations Leadership Council asking the federal and provincial governments to declare a state of emergency, and for resources to be prioritized to remove the obstruction within the next 60 days.

It also asks the federal government to identify and fund a working group, including representatives from affected First Nations, to monitor the efforts and develop contingency plans in response to the crisis.

ALSO READ: Threats to the Fraser River at ‘new zenith,’ says river conservationist

No one from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was immediately available for comment, but it held a media briefing last week updating the progress of federal, provincial and local efforts.

The department said water levels are beginning to drop on the river, presenting the only opportunity to remove enormous amounts of rock blocking salmon migration routes before spring and summer runs arrive.

Officials warned there’s a “high risk” they won’t be successful in rescuing the threatened salmon before the 2020 season.

In a request for information from the private sector that closed on Friday, the federal government said initial estimates show 75,000 cubic metres of material was deposited in the river and most of it is still there. The request sought construction and environmental remediation work to support the break up and removal of rock from the site of the slide during the first available low-water window between December and March.

The documents say several Fraser River salmon species are at risk of extinction, which could result in economic losses throughout B.C. and pose risks to the food security and culture of many Indigenous communities along the river.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

The Williams Lake Stampede Association will crown a new queen, and potentially a princess, during the Williams Lake Stampede Royalty coronation on Saturday, June 26. Vying for the title are Miss Williams Lake Lions Kennady Dyck (from left), Miss Peterson Contracting Ltd. Karena Sokolan and Miss MH King Excavating Bayley Cail. (Photos submitted)
New Williams Lake Stampede Queen to be crowned June 26

“It was jump in right away all the way,” Wessels said of getting the program up and running

As the province moves to lift some COVID-19 restrictions, the city of Williams Lake will be opening up its city council meetings to the public, beginning June 22. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Public attendance on the agenda once again for Williams Lake city council meetings

Residents will be permitted to attend meetings in person beginning June 22

The Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society invites residents in 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel to participate in “Free Your Things” taking place over the Father’s Day weekend. (Mary Forbes photo)
Cariboo Conservation Society co-ordinating “Free Your Things” Father’s Day weekend

Residents can sign up if they have items they want to give away

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake high school teacher valedictorian for TRU virtual graduation ceremonies

Jonathan Harding is graduating with a master of education degree

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read