In the remote mountains of British Columbia, the Xeni Gwet’in people fight an uphill battle to save their culture and protect their land from the threat of gold/copper mining. The Xeni Gwet’in must prove their ancestral rights and continuing use of the land for food and medicine, or they will lose their title and ownership, opening the door for major mining corporations to enter Nemiah Valley.
In 2007, Taseko Mines Ltd. made plans to construct an open pit mine in the Xeni Gwet’in’s scared Fish lake, where they would remove a thriving fish population and use it to store waste. According to Biologist Jamie Doyle, mining companies rely on soil ingestion rate estimates based on studies conducted in suburban and urban areas to determine possible health concerns of contaminated sites, which are not applicable to people following traditional lifestyles, such as the Xeni Gwet’in, whose close relationship with the land could put them at higher risk.
Losing our voice
The Xeni Gwet’in strength has weakened, as new generations no longer learn the ways of the elders or speak their native Chilcotin tongue. Previous generations of Xeni Gwet’in attended a mandatory boarding or “residential” school, where they were beaten and abused for speaking their language or practicing their traditions. As a result, many Xeni Gwet’in parents no longer speak Chilcotin to their children and the younger generations are slowly moving away from their heritage, speaking only English and preferring to spend their time in town.
Eileen, an Elder
Eileen is a Xeni Gwet’in elder, and one of the few Xeni Gwet’in natives regularly practicing the cultural traditions, such as hide making. Over the years, she has painfully watched the slow decline of her culture. Born and raised in the Chilcotin mountains, she grew up on horseback, learned to hunt and make her own clothes from moose and deer hides. She spends each year trying to teach the younger generations how to make hides, but the children no longer want to learn the Xeni Gwet’in language, legends, or traditions and she worries they will lose their culture forever.