Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip accident, when a run-away horse and wagon carrying elders went off the road and down a steep embankment on the south side of Farwell Canyon June 27, 2017.
No one was killed in the terrifying wreck, however, several elders suffered injuries such as bruises and broken ribs and were taken to hospital from the remote location — made even more inaccessible at the time due to the Highway 20 washout near the Sheep Creek Bridge. One of the two horses did not survive the crash which occurred when something spooked one of them and they ran at full-tilt veering off road left straight down into the steep, thick fir forest above the canyon.
Well-known respected Xeni Gwet’in elders Dinah and Jim Lulua were on the wagon trip at the time, and took the Tribune to the scene of the accident just hours after it happened.
Dinah was on the wagon but was able to jump off just before it went down the embankment. She helped the elders immediately following the accident. The Anaham First Aid team, who were with the Anaham Riders headed to the Stampede along Highway 20 by horseback and bicycle, also responded to the call for help, along with the RCMP’s critical incident team via helicopter. The initial report at the time was that a team of horses, wagon and elders had gone over a cliff at Farwell Canyon and were entangled.
Jim Lulua was behind the elder wagon, in a different wagon from his wife Dinah and said all he saw “was a cloud of dust” when the accident happened.
The elders were riding in one of several wagons travelling along with riders from the remote First Nations community of Xeni Gwet’in in the Nemiah Valley to the Williams Lake Stampede, a tradition revived ten years ago this year by now-Chief Jimmy Lulua.
Lulua started the Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip as a way to reconnect the community’s youth with horses. His vision is for his people to be healthy and physically active with a strong economy built upon by the four-year-old Supreme Court William Rights and Title decision.
Chilcotin rancher Roy Mulvahill was at the reigns of the runaway horse and wagon at the time of the crash and also sustained injuries, however, refused any medical care that evening, opting instead to sleep overnight at Farwell in the driver’s seat of his pickup truck. He continued on the next day and completed the wagon trip to the Stampede.
Roy and his wife Gwen have a close relationship with the Xeni Gwet’in people and have been instrumental in the success of the Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip.
In the hours following the accident last year, participants of the wagon trip and other community members who rushed to the scene to help, took part in a healing circle in Farwell Canyon above the Chilcotin River. Eagles circled overhead and horses grazed nearby as members drummed and took turns speaking of the trauma of the accident and need to recover and carry on.
One year later, it is obvious that is exactly what they have done.
The group is expected to reach Farwell Canyon today and mark the occasion with a ceremony.
Read more: Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip marks day five
In a conversation recently in his community during Culture Week, Lulua told the Tribune he believes horses have a way of looking after their people. For example, he said, one of the elders involved in the accident received a thorough check up when he was treated for his injuries and doctors discovered and treated a cancer that likely otherwise would not have been detected.
Lulua and his young family are on the ride this year, with a horse and wagon provided by the Mulvahills.
The Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip are expected to arrive in Williams Lake from Highway 20 Friday afternoon, travelling through vast areas burned by the 2017 wildfires, just in time to make their entrance at the 92nd annual Williams Lake Stampede.
If you miss them there, they will also be in the parade. And if you’re a fan of the popular Mountain Race, most, if not all, the riders competing in the event are from the community of Xeni Gwet’in.