Bands see road upgrade as a positive but want to be part of plan
"Lets not call it the Sasquatch Highway," says Gerard Peters, chief treaty negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch.
Its a stretch for anyone to call it a highway right now, but the 180 km forest service road linking Harrison Mills, in the Fraser Valley, with Pemberton has been a hot topic lately.
A few weeks ago a delegation of about 40 people, including MP Chuck Strahl, MLAs and mayors toured the corridor. The sudden interest in the route may be traced to two things: the 2010 Olympics, and the attractiveness of an alternate route between the Lower Mainland and Whistler; and the redrawing of federal riding boundaries which will put Pemberton and the so-called Sasquatch Highway route in the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding currently represented by Strahl.
The corridor tour, along the shores of Harrison Lake, the banks of the Lillooet River and the side of Lillooet Lake, has caught peoples imagination with its mixture of spectacular views and isolated communities. Road improvements could translate into economic opportunities for people at both ends of the corridor, and for the isolated communities of the Skatin, Samahquam and Douglas bands, united under the In-SHUCK-ch tribal council, that reside in the corridor.
While the provincial government has commissioned a study to examine those opportunities a new road might bring, the In-SHUCK-ch have some reservations.
"My concern is that road improvement will proceed without the input of my people," said Peters. "The road cannot happen absent to our title to the land. That needs to be settled as part of treaty negotiations."
The In-SHUCK-ch, who are keen to get on with treaty negotiations, have long maintained that a proper road through the corridor is crucial to their plans. It would lay the foundation for a regional economy, likely based on tourism. Currently the local economy is supported by tax dollars, which according to Peters perpetuates dependency.
"We want control of our resources, we dont have agricultural land and forestry will not sustain an economy for my people," said Peters. "We must look at the opportunities the new road presents in the service industry and independent power projects."
"The proposed road would also have a significant social impact for my people," said Peters. "Opening up this new territory can only have a positive effect."
Currently, the Skatin, Douglas and Samahquam people live without resources that most British Columbians take for granted. The approximately 200 residents are forced to rely on satellite phones for communication and generators for electricity. With no connection to the B.C. Hydro grid or phone service, basic needs are lacking.