“It’s a lot of hard work but it’s really worthwhile. It’s going to mean something for our community to have that chance instead of all the traffic going by us, to actually have economic opportunities in our community for the first time.”
With these words, Neskonlith councillor Joan Hooper refers to the third phase of the Salmon Arm West four-laning project, which would involve going through reserve land.
“We only had one gas station so far, so this is like, everybody is dreaming what they want on their properties, and the band properties. It’s pretty exciting. Who knows?”
Unlike the building of the Trans-Canada Highway when First Nations had no say, this time things are different. Several community consultation meetings and open houses have been held, the most recent on Dec. 11. Along with Secwepemc representatives, the team includes land use planners and a project management company.
The atmosphere on Dec. 11 was upbeat, jovial.
Hooper has been working for several years with the highways ministry to engage band members on what the full four-laning project, which goes through the band’s reserves in both the Chase and Salmon Arm areas, can mean to them as a community.
“It’s been going well, really well. We wanted to take the opportunity to plan and plan well,” she says.
“At the end of it all, two or three years from now, or four years or possibly five years, until we’re done our full engagement and everybody knows exactly what the project is, it’ll come to a vote. It’s not just a chief and council decision, it’s really going to be vetted well by our community.”
When Gerry Thomas speaks about his job as part of the Secwepemc team, he tells the story of Coyote and Buffalo.
The story, much more detailed and animated when he tells it, begins with Coyote running and playing. He suddenly notices he’s left the mountains far behind.
He also notices how hungry he is. He spots some bones and picks one up, licks it, bites into it and tastes the marrow. When he’s done he tosses it aside. He does this with another and another.
Behind him, he notices a cloud of dust in the distance coming towards him. When it gets closer, he realizes it’s Buffalo. All of a sudden Buffalo runs right over him and Coyote yelps in pain.
Coyote asks why he’s doing this.
In reply, Buffalo asks, “Why are you doing that to our people? You’re kicking our people, throwing them around. We don’t do that, we don’t run over them, we go around them.”
Buffalo asks Coyote to come a little closer. At that time, coyotes had long beards. When Coyote comes over, Buffalo grabs his beard, pulls it off and hangs it in a tree. He tells Coyote next time he sees the beard in the tree, “you’ll think about what you did to my people and you’ll go around them.”
Thomas explains that’s why Old Man’s Beard can be seen on trees to this day.
He says this is a message he has emphasized – an archaeological dig would have to be done before work on the Trans-Canada Highway is done. Not like last time when First Nations weren’t consulted.
This time things are different; this time he’s happy with the process.