Work is about to begin on the first stages of redevelopment at Lhtako Dene Park.
A contingent of leaders from the city of Quesnel and the Lhtako Dene Nation met at the downtown park, near the confluence of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers, where great gatherings have been held for thousands of years on the flat, centrally located space. A sign was unveiled showing how, in phases, the Lhtako people are going to upscale the park into a constant source of community pride and public conversation, reflective of its ancient role in local culture.
Before the sod was turned, several Lhtako elders spent time coaxing sacred smoke from bundles of sweetgrass to smudge the area, thus blessing the ground and communing with the spirits of the ancestors before doing new things in such a special place.
Chief Clifford Lebrun spoke first, about the signage and art that will be installed in Phase 1 of the project, the centrepiece being the sculpture of a dipnet fisher. “I can’t wait to see it, get a selfie in front of it, it’s exciting,” he said.
Lhtako elder Bryant Paul acknowledged the political work involved to enable this development to happen. He also drew attention to how the one-year anniversary was coming up for the park being dedicated to the Lhtako people, done last year on Indigenous Peoples Day. He hoped that day and that space would be used for future announcements and Aboriginal awareness. He then said a prayer for strength and wisdom in these endeavours.
“Let this be a good day. The ground has been blessed, for the sign to go up. We are working with the Quesnel people so we can share this park all together,” he said, in closing.
It was then that elder Beatrice Betty Lebrun said to those gathered “we’re glad we got that back,” about the park, and made a detailed speech in the Dakelh language, not because she couldn’t speak English but to accentuate the immemorial ties between the Lhtako mother tongue and that spot on the earth, and to remind all present that despite deliberate colonial attempts to expunge Dakelh, it was still alive in her and salient in this moment in time.
Afterwards, her friend and fellow elder Luna Ildzi thoroughly translated what she said, explaining that “she prayed and she also spoke at the same time.”
In that way, together, they made points like “this little piece of land that was given back to us is very sacred,” to the point that for some gatherings, children were not allowed to attend “because it was too powerful.” The development of this park is part of awareness that the entire area is Lhtako territory, and that has not yet been addressed, the ill health of the salmon populations has not been addressed, the people still trying to do hurtful things to the Lhtako people must still be prayed for, and all of it is for the sake of future generations.
“She said we all need to work together, love one another, and don’t think bad things of someone else around you,” Ildzi recounted. “We need to make the town a beautiful place, because a lot of people come through here. We need to welcome people that come. A long time ago, our people welcomed people, no matter who it was. That’s the way of our people,” she said.
The most notable case of that was the original colonial figure, Alexander Mackenzie, who would have led his canoe party into certain peril had they not encountered the goodwill of the Lhtako people along the Fraser River who urged him to go no further south by canoe, but take their overland road to the coast. They did so, and the rest is colonial history.
Elder Jim Edgar added that the relationship between Lhtako and the broader Quesnel community was recently vastly improved. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. Things are falling in really well, around here.”
Paul added “I’d like to thank the city of Quesnel for helping out, in a good way. It is good that we are working together. I’d like to thank Lindsay (Blair, the city of Quesnel’s senior community development coordinator) for organizing all this. We love you.”
Mayor Ron Paull said that “this is a very good day, a very special day, and the first of many special days. This park will become a gathering place where the community will share events, will share festival, will share feast, and they will share together this lovely, sacred place. This is a wonderful beginning for our future.”
“It is a great day. We’re making history here,” said chief Lebrun.