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Creation Story

Before the establishment of the reserve in 1877, our ancestors wintered in many pit house villages along both sides of Kamloops Lake, and for a distance below the outlet of the lake. During the spring, summer, and fall they would travel throughout their territory to gather important resources at critical times and places. Traditional custom dictated by knowledge allowed the people to make the most efficient use of the earths' harvest. When the first Europeans arrived, they shared in the wealth of the land with our ancestors. They valued our ancestors' knowledge of the land and their skills in the acquisition of furs. Traditional Secwepemc protocol was predominantly followed during the fur trade era.

In 1858 a blanket of American miners began to cover the land. Our ancestors had made no used of gold and were not practiced in its extraction. Consequently, they were menial participants in the gold trade. The colonial government of BC, fearing that the flood of American miners threatened their power, began to fill up the land with their own people. Our ancestors had not entered into any treaties surrendering their lands as other native people had done all across Canada. The governor of the colony of BC hastily began assigning reserves with the promise that fair and generous compensation would be forth coming.

Initially, as much and whatever land our ancestors wanted was to be reserved for them. In 1862, Chief Sisiyesq't claimed an area of nine miles on both sides of the Thompson River starting at Sk'emqin. The responsibility of establishing interior reserves fell on the gold commissioner for the region, but these surveys were not carefully recorded on paper or on the land.

The seven year period between 1864 to 1871 saw our people's future severely impaired by the appointment of Joseph Trutch as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works. While holding this position, Trutch vehemently argued that the reserves were too large and that Indians had no right to claim land. Since some people wintered at Ck'ecse7tn (Back Valley) and along Deadman River, the reserve was reduced and relocated only along that river in 1868.

Resistance

In 1862 a small pox outbreak in Victoria resulted in the exile of all Indians there back to their respective reserves. Approximately two thirds of the total native population of BC died at this time. Skeetchestn was reduced to 122 individuals and by 1877, only 82 members were recorded in the census.

It was in this weakened state that our ancestors came under the control of Canadian law. The Indian Act, passed in 1876, allowed the federal government to claim reserves as federal property and their occupants, as "wards" of the state. Skeetchestn people's status and rights were reduced to that of children. Indian Agents were employed to look out for their interests and to manage their lands and affairs.

Under this system, federal agents power over local Band affairs continually increased until 1952. Selected correspondence between Skeetchestn Chief Jimmy Peters and the Indian agent reveals the resistance to this control.

In 1927 the Indian Agent advised that members register their trap lines if they wished to continue trapping in their traditional territories. The next year Chief Peters was instructed to have members register their livestock for an off reserve grazing permit. Permits were issued free to the Band but head fees came out of Band funds. Native livestock owners did not have the same access to capital as non-native ranchers and so stock was not raised to capital venture but more as a hedge against hunger and transportation. However, failure to renew the annual permit would result in loss of grazing rights off the reserve, in traditional territories.

Fishing permits were being enforced by 1933. The Indian Agent claimed "the privilege of catching salmon for food any time is given only to Indians" and should be taken advantage of. However, the conditions of the permit explicitly stated that "The Chief Supervisor shall have the power in any such permit {...} to limit or fix the time in which such permission shall be operative.

" The "privileges" of free permits began to be doubted and the members, through their Chief, voiced their objections.

In 1934, Chief Jimmy Peters boldly challenged the authority of the Indian Agent. A work strike on the irrigation ditch by Skeetchestn members occurred in March of that year. The chief demanded information concerning the allocation of Band funds emphatically stating, "We want all this information answered and explained by letter before work starts again..." The post script declaring that "all expenses on our ditch work will be verified and approved by the Band and myself before it goes forward to the Department of Indian Affairs at Ottawa" can only be interpreted as bravado as Chief and Council had no legal power at this time. This was made clear in the Indian agents response to the chiefs' protest of a lease of Sasses (Horseshoe Island) for mining purposes. "It is not necessary to obtain the consent of the Indians of a Reserve to a lease of the land."

Abatement

The period from 1940 to 1950 was one of relative compliance by the Band. Since 1927 it had been illegal for anyone to collect money to fund land claims. By this time the first generation of residential school graduates had been thoroughly educated in the shame of their heritage. The daily struggle of making a living was made tolerable by the weekend house dances, baseball and stick games as well as a less healthy preoccupation with alcohol. It was the war in Europe, however, that claimed most of the publics'[ attention during this time. Nine Skeetchestn warriors served in the Canadian armed forces, trusting that their allegiance would be returned.

In 1951 the law that had prohibited fund raising for land claims was revoked. The installation of electricity to some reserve homes in 1955 is a well remembered event and, likely, was seen as a more tangible sign of improvement for Skeetchestn residents. As the government gradually removed itself from the daily operations of the Band, Chief Charlie Draney demanded greater control over the Band's funds. While this was not immediately forthcoming, his push for band initiated projects was acted upon.

Wage employment had been mainly seasonal and off reserve. It included picking hops in Kamloops, fruit picking in the Okanagan, and range riding for the large ranches of the interior. Several Band initiatives were implemented to allow the members to remain closer to home. A Day school was built in 1955 in the village. A Band operated sawmill and trailer park was established at a later date. These ventures met with varying degrees of success.

The ten year period from about 1972 to 1982 saw a succession of short term chiefs in office. Programs designed to train Band members for self management were ongoing. However, social and economic impairment from the previous era of residential schooling and governmental assimilation policies undermined progress at this time. The process of governmental approval for employment programs was frustratingly slow for the newly motivated leadership. Band members suddenly gained access to loans through Reserve Funds at the same time that Band earnings from grazing leases and hay production took a downturn. These factors coupled with a long history of fiscal inexperience led the Band into bankruptcy by 1981.

Resurgence

By 1984, under the adept leadership of Chief Ron Ignace and adherence to a strong financial recovery plan, The Skeetchestn Indian Band regained fiscal integrity. Since the early 1980s the Band has embarked upon many projects designed to create long term prosperity.

Traditional Secwepemc fisheries has deteriorated over the years. Blasting for the CNR right of way in the Fraser Canyon in 1913 caused a huge slide that devastated the salmon population. Habitat loss by industrial development and pollution, and sports and commercial fishing have compounded the damage. Elders remember a time when barking dogs would alert them to the "fields swimming with fish" as fish would enter irrigation intakes on the Deadman River. Self-imposed conservation closures on the Deadman River have been in place for the last 10 years and a riverbank restoration project was completed by the Band in 1988 funded through Employment and Immigration Canada and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. A fish hatchery on the Deadman River was built in 1988 by the Band and the Department of Oceans and Fisheries. The goal to increase the stocks through Band assistance not only rebuilds the fisheries resource but restores a vital component of Skeetchestn history and culture.

Another Band initiative toward future self-reliance has been the development of Quiq'wi'elst (Blackstone) School officially opened in 1996. Its goal is to incorporate a quality education program with Secwepemc language instruction and First Nations awareness at the elementary level. Building confidence of identity in our youth will insure qualified decision making and fiscal responsibility within and outside the community in the future.

Many Skeetchestn band members are involved in the annual rodeos, pow wows, and other social and sporting events. Skeetchestn hosts healing gatherings and living skills workshops as well. The large attendance at these events attest to the organizational skills and dedication of the community. Both social and spiritual well being is promoted by such gatherings.

A co-venture agreement with Chai-Na-Ta for the cultivation of ginseng was signed in 1996. The first 50 of a total of 544 acres of ginseng was seeded in the fall of 1996. There property located by Highway #1 is slated for further ginseng cultivation as well a gas outlet and convenience store has now been established. Further developments may include a cultural interpretive centre, a restaurant, and a trailer park. Profits from these enterprises will go to support perhaps less profitable but culturally significant projects. Upon fruition of the ginseng and fisheries projects, Skeetchestn will have come full circle in their affinity to salmon and roots resources. Special Thanks to Lea McNabb for providing history information.