When Keith Billington was invited to travel the Aatse Davie Trail, a 460 km trail used by the Sekani people for centuries, he jumped at the chance, despite being 60 years old. The Tse-loh-ne (people of the Rocks) live in one of B.C.’s most remote areas, north of Prince George in the Rocky Mountain Trench and elders, who knew the trail, were travelling it’s length to reenforce tribal rights for treaty negotiation purposes.
Historically, this isolated band of Sekani were nomadic and survived by following the seasons, walking hundreds of kilometres each year, hunting and harvesting food as they travelled.
Although the English-born registered nurse had worked in the Canadian Arctic for six years with his wife, Muriel, Billington wasn’t fully prepared for the arduous journey, relying heavily on the expertise and knowledge of the Sekani elders.
Together they endured cold, starvation and injury; they encountered grizzly bears, swollen rivers and incessant rain. However, Billington recognized that many of the hardships experienced by Sekani in the past, were mitigated for modern day travellers by the high tech clothing and equipment available in the 21st century.
As did their ancestors, the Tse-loh-ne elders traveled with pack dogs which carried food and supplies over challenging terrain. Billington also carried a 70-pound pack which paled in comparison to the load carried by his human companions. If not for the knowledge of Hazel and Charlie Boya and other tribal elders, Billington could not have made the trek as the trail disappeared many times and had to be found again by Charlie. Through Hazel’s excellent cooking ability and her knowledge of the land and what it offered, the group didn’t perish on the trail from starvation, although several of their food caches (food left in secure places along the trail for use later) were found ravished and eaten by bears. Tribal stories told of where wildlife was most prevalent and where more scarce, but much to the travellers dismay, with changing climate and topography, they didn’t find the stories to hold true.
Their harrowing journey is a poignant glimpse into the hardships of the Sekani people, who have one foot in their past and the other in their future – a people who reluctantly try to adapt to today’s values knowing that change is inevitable.
The book, titled Tse-loh-Ne, (The People at the End of the Rocks), Journey down the Davie Trail is published by Caitlin Press.