By Kelly Sinoski
The Pelltíq’t te Secwépemc First Nations hopes its people can finally go home, to heal.
The small nation – also known as the Clinton Whispering Pines – claims most of Clinton, especially Kelly Creek and Big Bar, as part of its ancestral lands. Once a thriving band that had been part of High Bar and Big Bar, the nation nearly went extinct in the 1800s when the government “handed out smallpox blankets” and ushered them to an area near Kelly Lake, Kupki7 (Chief) Ed LeBourdais says.
If 21 of their members hadn’t snuck away, hiding in the mountains around Clinton, there might not be anyone left to tell their story.
Like most First Nations, the story of the Pelltíq’t te Secwépemc is one of trauma and loss. They found themselves shifted countless times around the Clinton territory for greed and profit. Once, when gold was found on their reserve at Kelly Creek; another when BC Hydro expropriated their lands at Mile 8 near Kelly Lake to build a substation, LeBourdais says.
Since 1972, its people have subsisted on a flood-prone reserve north of Kamloops. They were given a parcel of land above the CN rail tracks in Clinton in the 1990s but they can’t access it.
“We want to be able to rectify some wrongs and give our members the ability to either move here or move to Clinton,” LeBourdais says.
After near extinction, the Pelltíq’t te Secwépemc’ are working to rebuild their numbers, with their membership sitting at about 208. A majority of those rejoining the band are from the Steke’7ús (People of the Little Hanging Bridge/Big Bar), which had been declared extinct by the Canadian government. Their reserve land was taken, their rights abolished.
LeBourdais says many of their people gave up their status when they refused to send their children to residential school.
Times, though, are changing. Efforts are underway to connect with the land, to get back to the old way of doing things.
“The chief and council are really involved in rebuilding our community and reconnecting with our territory and getting back to the land,” he says.
The members fish in the Fraser River, Kelly Creek and HiHium.They have a fishing station at 83 Mile where it flows into Green Lake. They gather plants and berries in the Clinton alpine that can’t be found anywhere else. One member collects quantities of Hooshum, or soapberries, from Clinton because the minerals in the soil make it superior to anywhere else.
“Years ago our people used to do a big loop hunting and fishing in spring and come back in the fall to winter in the Clinton valley,” LeBourdais says.
Stewardship is a big part of their mission, he adds. The First Nations used to do prescribed burns, and thin out the forests.
LeBourdais says stopping clearcut logging would help bring back the animals. He has seen this happen on their own reserve. Fire mitigation efforts have resulted in wildlife they haven’t seen in decades: cougars, badgers and coyotes. A rubber boa, turtles and frogs.
“What that shows is if you look after it, it will produce for you,” he says. “The forests become healthy so wildlife can thrive and you get all your medicines that come with a healthy forest.”
The nation has solar panels on every facility. It has a community garden and community kitchen, and harvests and distributes its vegetables to its members.
“The mismanagement of what the government is doing is unbelievable,” he says. “It’s hard for us to sit back and watch. Now we’re saying enough is enough. It’s probably going to take us 100 years to get back to the old ways of doing things.”
But he has hope it can be done.
“We’re pretty much at rock bottom now so all we can do is move up. Healing is a big part of doing that,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is get our community members back on the land, to heal. We will keep educating our younger members in both western and Secwépemc culture because that’s the only way we’re going to survive.”