We had arrived at this remote Southern Carrier Nation village after dark and parked the wagon near the school teacherage where we were to stay during our visit.
The school and teacherage had the only generator in the small village. This was to be luxury camping for a few nights, full facilities!
Many of the children were excited the teacherage might be operating the generator so the kids could possibly watch video movies. That was the only exotic entertainment and much valued.
After putting the horses out to pasture for the night and after retrieving our four kids who had been fed moose jerky, rice and tea (with sugar), we were able to sleep on actual mattresses.
The next day we set to work repairing the wagon as best we could. Help abounded. We had an electric drill for drilling metal for placing some reinforcement bolts and plates. AS soon as we identified some piece a young man would fetch it. These were after all “Jackpine mechanics” able to fix almost anything.
Hardware stores are absent in most rural areas. To this day we keep broken pieces of equipment in case we need it. A trip to town for a mere bolt is unheard of.
With the wagon repaired we could set out on a couple of day trips to get the lay of the land and do an economic overview of the proposed “new” village site which was actually the old village site referred to as “Old Kluskus” known for the old church which, until it was stolen, had a church bell in the tower.
Stamped into the casting was old Russian syllabic script probably signifying details of the foundry .
Old Kluskus was several miles from the Chantyman meadow IR where most of the people were living for at least part of the year. The Lhoosk’lus are part of the Southern Dakelh (Carrier) and at the time considered to be relatively “nomadic” people making seasonal “rounds” to various parts of their territory.
We were escorted on our reconnaissance visit to the proposed site of the village rebuild by a young woman councillor from the band government.
At one point we stopped at an ancient village site to look at a remarkable set of excavations which were once winter homes and lodges.
The kids found the open grassy hills inviting and began to run up the slopes. We had to call them back because in the kind words of our official escort: “ Old Henry walks up there” and it would be sacrilegious for his spirit to be interrupted by child play.
This was an important lesson in respect, for another culture which dwelt in this land from time immemorial. The spirits of the elders remain vitally important to successive generations.
Our wagon entourage carried past Old Kluskus and down the Grease trail—the old route along which oolichan grease was taken east for trading. It was not Alexander Mackenzie who “discovered this trail.” Rather he was guided to the ocean near Bella Coola by the local people in 1793.
At one spot on the trail which skirted around a hill with a steep side dropping off, we were alerted (warned )not to look over the edge. If we did we might have the same fate as historic wagon travellers had and the wagon might tip over.
The face of someone killed in this accident could still be seen in the rock face below. Especially as I was driving this treacherous piece of road, I did not dare to look. I think our group understood the bad luck that might be wrought upon us. As I recall some of the wagon passengers chose to walk this part.
This old grease trail wagon road was not a route for transporting building materials to the new proposed village.
When we were there, there was considerable concern among the hunters of the village that with logging pushing closer moose were being harvested beyond the population level required for sustenance hunting for the Lhoosk’uz people.
On recent times it was customary for a family to get a moose at a hay meadow and eat from it and dry winter meat at the same time as putting up hay.
The people could sustain a modified sustenance economy and lifestyle even though life was changing around them with ranchers employing fewer hay contractors, with the price of furs being “in the tank” and logging being one of the “promises” for local employment.
It would be possible to build up a bit of an economy by building a cultural school and providing a place for wilderness traditional education.
It was also possible to power the new community and its school with solar power. This location was reputed to have one of the best solar exposures in B.C.
The construction of many homes and community buildings would provide employment in a small sawmill since building materials -logs and lumber-could be provided locally. Should the people want they could expand their cattle holdings to supplement income. Raising horses for transport and sale/trade was also a possibility.
It certainly was possible, I found , for the Kluskus people to have a major role in the village rebuilding and continue to live in their traditional locale.
A pause of our outfit at Old Kluskus ended with a horse race along the grassy bench beside the lake. One of our sons was determined to beat my horse (a thoroughbred/quarter horse) with his Belony horse ( Belgian pony cross).
It is amazing just how fantastic one’s first horse is. This one could be ridden, packed, driven and many other things. The two older boys each had one of these great cross-breds.
As readers will see, the fact that these horses were trained to pull would be of assistance on the way back. And that will be in the rest of the story!
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.