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Playing the Game: Tsek’ehne Political Action and the Environmental Movement, 1968-1990

Thu, April 11, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Champaign


On 12 September 1967 BC Hydro completed the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. The following spring the Williston Lake reservoir began to form upstream of it. Currently the largest lake in British Columbia, it flooded the heart of the Tsek’ehne homeland and negatively impacted the three Tsek’ehne First Nations of Kwadacha, McLeod Lake and Tsay Keh Dene. Because of British Columbia’s Aboriginal policy, combined with the lack of proper consultation and compensation, all three nations lacked the necessary land base and capital to adequately deal with this environmental disaster and the development that followed its wake on their own. Not helping the situation was that BC Hydro as well as both levels of government felt that they had done all that was required of them under the law. Faced with this situation all three bands not only took political action, but also began to look for allies to help them in their fight. A logical choice was the emerging environmental movement. This alliance, however, was a problematic one. Not only did it play off the concept of the authentic ecological Indian, but both parties had different desired outcomes. This simple fact is readily apparent when one considers how groups like the Ingenika band (an historic name of the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation) were once darlings of the environmental movement, only to become almost forgotten once a settlement was achieved. This paper will examine this uneasy relationship up to the beginning of the modern comprehensive treaty process in British Columbia. In it I will argue that in order to gain public support, the Tsek’ehne, like many other First Nations in British Columbia, co-opted the environmental movement in their fight for Aboriginal title.