Story and photos by Vivian Moreau
There are just a few houses at the north end of Harrison Lake and a cairn that marks the significance of Port Douglas as a vital stepping stone to the mid-1800s gold rush fields. But Eppa Gerard Peters stands on a grassy waterfront plain where he thinks a lodge should be built and managed by his people, In-SHUCK-ch First Nations, who live in the Lower Lillooet valley between Pemberton and Harrison Lake. He sees no irony in a First Nations community capitalizing on the historical white influx that changed his people forever – what he sees is opportunity.
"We have to be as creative as the market warrants," he said. "Gosh, we could do any number of things: put a paddle wheeler on the lake, build or rebuild a historic town site."
And with treaty negotiations nearing finalization the dream is closer to realization.
Peters, 58, chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch’s population of almost 1,000, has been mired in treaty parlay for almost 10 years, intent on bringing 21 st -century independence and prosperity to his people through self-governance and business development. This week In-SHUCK-ch Nation, B.C., and Canada signed an agreement in principle; stage four – the nuts and bolts stage – of the six-step treaty negotiation process facilitated by the B.C. Treaty Commission.
Described by Peters as "fulsome," the deal includes $21 million cash and about 150 square kilometres of land that runs in a 65-kilometre linear strip from Lillooet Lake to Harrison Lake and includes sub-surface rights. The agreement in principle, one of only seven reached so far in B.C. and hammered out by Peters and a four-member support team, needs to be approved by In-SHUCK-ch interim government, made up of elected chiefs and council of the Xa’xtsa (Douglas) and Samahquam (Baptiste-Smith) and traditional chiefs and council of Skatin (Skookumchuk). They will, in turn, present it for approval to an In-SHUCK-ch general assembly in April.Three chief negotiators at stage four signing of treaty negotiations between Canada, In-SHUCK-ch and B.C. Photo by Shannon Chapman
Although he refers to himself as a "technician," Peters is more than that: a compassionate patriarchal figure mentoring younger leaders and proposing long-term visionary plans for chiefs and councils to consider that include tourism development and forestry licence ventures. Heady stuff for a community that does not enjoy the accoutrements of most British Columbians, like telephone, hydro or paved highway, yet is only 10 minutes by helicopter from Whistler.
Keeping up with Peters on a sunny yet chilly February day is no easy task. The 12-hour trip into In-SHUCK-ch territory in the Lower Lillooet River valley begins with a stop at the Pemberton communications office for an update on wireless broadband hook-up for the three In-SHUCK-ch communities. Presently serviced with a temperamental UHF radio system that consistently fails when needed most, administrator Charles Peters had hoped for funding to bring broadband Internet access to the communities but approval recently fell through. Peters says the system "when it is running sounds like an oscillating fan blowing through so that recipient and caller can’t hear a thing." Communication is limited to two-way radios at band offices, and in some homes and vehicles in the communities.
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