May 30th - SOUTH BANK, B.C
. – The Cheslatta Carrier Nation welcomed over 200 people to stand with them today at their ancestral burial grounds at Scatchola Village to participate in their “Return of the Spirits” ceremony.
The poignant ceremony began with a caravan procession of cars traveling down 50 km of dusty gravel roads to the old village site on Cheslatta Lake and continued to the burial grounds where Cheslatta youth recited the names of over 60 ancestors whose graves have washed away beneath the waters of Cheslatta Lake due to massive floods at the Skins Lake Spillway. As recently as last week, bones were washed on shore, and remains discovered in March of this year have been confirmed as human. Six youth carried a large wooden coffin housing the recently recovered remains during the ceremony and two Roman Catholic priests blessed the graves that have remained intact. The priests also re-consecrated the three cemeteries and Cheslatta Lake itself as an official cemetery. Bishop Hubert O’Grady originally consecrated Cheslatta Lake as a cemetery in 1993.
“It saddens me greatly that my ancestors cannot rest. My people have to continually re-live the horrors we suffered when our lands were originally flooded 60 years ago by the construction of the Kenney Dam,” said Chief Richard Peters. “Our ancestors deserve a peaceful resting place. It is devastating that the graves of our family members can be flooded at any time.”
Cheslatta traditional territory was inundated in 1952 when the Kenney Dam was constructed on the mighty Nechako River to service the Alcan aluminum smelter in Kitimat. The dam flooded 120,000 acres, took away approximately two-thirds of the original river and still blocks all natural flows downstream. As a result, the tiny Cheslatta River and Lake system suddenly became the new headwaters of the Nechako.
“It is shocking that this desecration is allowed to continue in Canada. What angers me the most is that we have a solution to end this devastation,” adds Chief Peters. “The provincial government has committed on numerous occasions to build a water release facility at Kenney Dam that would stop the continued flooding of our graves. We have had enough and have recently remobilized our energy behind the Nechako River Legacy Project to stimulate a massive environmental restoration of the Upper Nechako watershed to begin a revitalization process for the Cheslatta land and people.
The Cheslatta Carrier Nation is a First Nations community whose 130 members currently reside on scattered reserves located approximately 35 km south of Burns Lake, B.C. More information about the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and the Nechako River Legacy Project is available at www.facebook.com/nechakolegacy