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Secwépemc, Tŝilhqot’in First Nations clash over Farwell Canyon

Williams Lake First Nation have announced plams to conduct research in the area
The Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip makes its way through Farwell Canyon during a previous trip. (Gailene William photo)

Farwell Canyon west of Williams Lake is at the centre of a territorial dispute between the Secwépemc and Tŝilhqot’in First Nations.

On June 14, Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) announced their plans to conduct a “focused land-use planning exercise in the area.” The work is to include archaeological research and surveys, environmental data, wildlife-related studies, and engagement with other First Nations, government, and industry, noted WLFN.

WLFN Chief Willie Sellars said Farwell Canyon is a critical part of Northern Secwépemc Territory.

“We have a rich and well-established historical connection to these lands, and our uses continue through to the present day,” noted Sellars. “Unfortunately, there is not sufficient awareness of Secwépemc rights and values in the area of Farwell Canyon, and our management priorities have not always been recognized by government and industry.”

The Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG), however, issued a statement June 16 in response to the announcement, opposing the archaeological work or any other disturbance at Farwell without their approval.

“Nagwentled (Farwell Canyon) is Tŝilhqot’in territory, and it will always be Tŝilhqot’in territory. It winds through the caretaker area of Tl’esqox, one of the six Tŝilhqot’in communities that comprise the Tŝilhqot’in Nation,” noted the TNG statement.

Chief Joe Alphonse, TNG Tribal Chair, said the TNG doesn’t believe there is a territory overlap, adding the plans by WLFN is “definitely going to affect the relationship.”

“They are going to be met with opposition,” Alphonse told the Tribune, noting Tŝilhqot’in territory runs west from the Fraser River to Anahim Peak.

He said the Tŝilhqot’in Nation has always allowed other nations to fish at Farwell Canyon, an important salmon fishing site in the area, due to all having a shared similar history of colonization and poverty.

“Maybe we’ve been too generous.”

WLFN noted in their announcement there is a need to fill some of the gaps in the current Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plans’ management tools, and to “clearly assert ourselves as a critical decision maker with respect to the use and development of these Farwell Canyon lands.”

The WLFN statement noted that in 2018, WLFN and three other Northern Secwépemc communities entered into a government-to-government agreement known as the Yecweminul’ecw Land and Resource Use Agreement, which acknowledges land and resource use in Northern Secwépemc traditional territory. “The agreement was written to reflect the Province’s pledge to true and lasting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and to serve as a means through which the Province could advance its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).”

“This Farwell Canyon Land Use Planning exercise is one very logical extension of our government-to-government agreement with the Province and we’re excited about creating a product that will provide meaningful guidance to government, industry, and other land users,” noted Sellars. “Being clear and transparent about priorities and values increases opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, minimizes the potential for conflict, and celebrates the history of Indigenous people in this region.”

The TNG has voiced their own commitment to Farwell.

“The Chilko salmon (ts’eman) that run through Nagwentled are one of the last, strong salmon runs in North America. Chilko salmon stocks spawn in the heart of declared title lands, deep in Tŝilhqot’in territory. The Tŝilhqot’in Nation has fought and sacrificed for generations to keep these waters pristine,” noted their statement. “We have turned down vast sums of money, while other First Nations have signed business deals with open-pit mines discharging directly into the Fraser and Quesnel systems. Each First Nation decides the priorities of its people, and we are not critical of the paths chosen by other First Nations. Our Nation has chosen to exercise not only our rights at Nagwentled, but more importantly our responsibilities to our sacred waters and our salmon stocks.”

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation added they will be “reaffirming to British Columbia and Canada that Nagwentled is Tsilhqot’in territory and that our people will always carry the responsibility to manage and steward these lands and waters.”

Following the initial announcement, Chief Sellars reiterated to the Tribune that “the area known as Farwell Canyon is unequivocally Secwepemc Territory.”

” … We are always prepared to engage in dialogue with other Nations, and we are certainly prepared to do so as part of this recent planning exercise. Respecting and attempting to understand others’ perspectives and priorities is part of the Secwepemc way. The engagement with the Tŝilhqot’in Nation must, however, conclude with an acknowledgement that Farwell Canyon is Secwepemc Territory.”

Work on the WLFN Farwell Canyon planning exercise is expected to commence in late June 2023, noted the WLFN.

Douglas Lake Cattle Company owns much of the area at Farwell Canyon following the purchase of Riske Creek Cattle Company’s Cotton and Deer Park Ranches in 2015.

In recent months the ranch partnered with neighbouring Tl’esqox (Toosey) First Nation to erect signage to keep mountain bikers and motorized recreation vehicles out of the area to help protect the California bighorn sheep.

READ MORE: Williams Lake mountain bikers raise awareness of Farwell Canyon closure prior to 4/20 event

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