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Grave markers washed away from Mount Currie cemetery



Many may have lost winter food stores

The wooden crosses marking the grave sites of many Mount Currie ancestors have been washed away in the recent floods.

Now, in addition to rebuilding homes and helping neighbours, the community is in the painful process of mapping out the areas where about 1,500 loved ones lie underground.

Chief Leonard Andrew said it is an upsetting ordeal. The graveyard lies less than half a kilometre from Highway 99 on the old Mount Currie reserve. Two weeks ago it looked as though a river was running through it.

"We have something like 1,500 gravesites so it’s a chore and a half but the community is working at it right now," said Andrew.

"We’re having to do it through past records and having to communicate with the families to make sure that those headstones and graves are put in their proper places."

Once the graveyard is mapped out properly on paper and everyone is in agreement on the place markings, the community will then begin the task of putting it back in order.

The graveyard is just one thing to be rebuilt in the wake of the floods in the small First Nations community north of Pemberton.

For some community members who live on the old reserve, this is the third time in 20 years they’ve returned to homes ruined by flood waters.

There were significant flood events in 1984 and again in 1992.

Andrew said the Lillooet River Flood Study was just completed in the last year, which was a joint study with the Village of Pemberton, on the flood plains in the area.

"It’s a study that really pointed out what it would cost for flood protection and on the reserve lands alone I think it was something like $19 million to build dikes," said Andrew.

"There’s just virtually no diking on the reserve lands."

During this last flood many families, including Andrew and his wife, fled their homes on the old reserve lands, taking refuge with family and friends on higher ground at the new Mount Currie site.

Forty-two cows were not as lucky and perished in the flood.

On Tuesday night the Stockman’s Association came out to the first Mount Currie council meeting since the flood and told the leaders of their plight.

Roughly $25,000 in hay was washed away and is needed desperately to keep the animals alive through the winter.

They may not get any relief from the Provincial Emergency Program because farming is not their primary income.

"In the last flood the majority of them applied for farm assistance and didn’t qualify because of that," said Sheldon Tetreault, senior administrator with the Mount Currie band.

"They’re all going to apply again this time but they do not believe that they will be eligible for that assistance.

"Unless they can come up with donations on that, they’re not going to be able to pay it."

Even people who do not use farming as a way to supplement their food stocks may be in need of food supplies this winter.

Tetreault explained that the salmon season has just ended and there was most likely a lot of stores of dried fish in Mount Currie homes. In addition residents hunt and berry pick and those caches of food may have been destroyed too.

"We had a lot of people who had stuff put away for the winter," said Tetreault.

"If that stuff was exposed in cellars for example then it’s probably contaminated and probably thrown out."

Chief Andrew said once the immediate concerns of the clean up are taken care of, he will be focusing his attention of the flood study.

He said: "That’s the challenge I have in front of me to say: ‘I’m going to take this study and make sure that they (the government) start to really look at it seriously.’"

He also said while Mount Currie has suffered in this latest flood, there are three more First Nations communities further east – Skatin, Douglas and Samahquam – that were devastated and still in isolation with no road access.

"We’re trying to work with them further in regards to how we can help them."