This story takes place in the early 1980s when we were into our second decade homesteading. Like many beginning ranchers we needed to work off the ranch to have the income to build: home, fences, roads.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to provide planning services for the four First Nations making up the Carrier Chilcotin Tribal Council. Much of the work was to assist in developing the First Nations’ capacity to manage their own infrastructure, such as community water, and to engage government in land use planning.
This story will be a series of several articles about the relocation of the community to its original site on Kluskus Lake in the Upper Blackwater River wastershed.
As it happened, the main families of the nation had grown the community of over a dozen houses to include a small school and a teacherage adjacent to a meadow IR (Indian Reserve). The community wanted to grow but federal government funding was not forthcoming because most of the community was not on an “official” IR.
Like so many other First Nations communities, potable water was not available or developed.
The community had decided they would like to build up Kluskus back where it used to be on Kluskus Lake.
Funding had been secured to undertake a feasibility study. The first challenge the tribal council had was to convince Indian Affairs in Vancouver that there would be a community 20 or so years out, as the population had been declining. The tribal council had a consultant who was able to argue population projections with the best of the statisticians in the government.
Argument won, the study was on. The population at the time of this story was just over 100. As a band it now has a population of 242.
My job was to visit the community and the proposed relocation and put a plan together that would convince government that the move was feasible.
One of the compelling reasons to move was that when the creek in the village flooded, the children had to walk through boot-deep water to get to the outhouse.
My feeling at the time was that I should go into the village the main way the people did, by horse and wagon. Officials and advisors usually flew in and I was told that no advisor or government person had gone in other than by plane and maybe snowmobile.
One of the instructions from the Chief and Council was that the new village should be built without building a road to connect to the developing logging roads. Too much back and forth traffic would disrupt the community.
I had earlier flown over the wagon route with an engineer from “Indian Affairs” as the department was then known. It was inconceivable, the officials thought, to consider building a new village without a road in. At one point during the flight in he asked what was the ribbon of road very much looking to him like a paved road.
It was, I said, a corduroy wagon road (small trees cut and laid the width of the trail tight enough together so horse’ s feet wouldn’t get bogged down in the wet meadow). This road was in bad repair and an alternate route around the meadow was in use.
I proposed to my family that we go into Kluskus and that would be our holiday for the summer.
Our “outfit” was my partner, our three children and another family friend. We were to be guided in by the band manager who brought his daughter.
This epic journey started with a borrowed wagon that could be towed on the highway by our two-ton stock truck that carried our five horses and our gear.
Like a lot of early ranch trucks, this one didn’t make it to Quesnel where we had to wait for the replacement of our blown engine at Red Bluff.
Next week I will continue with the story of getting there, after this early “bust.”
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.