Sutikalh Occupation Enters Fifth Year: St'at'imc Nation Defies Ski Resort
by Rosalin Sam

In 1990, we, the Lil'wat, staged a road blockade on Mt. Currie in British Columbia for several reasons, including opposition to a plan to pave logging roads that run through our community. The Lil'wat community of Mt. Currie is a band of the St'at'imc people, who are often referred to as the Lillooet Nation in government documents. We have lived in this region for thousands of years, and we have never ceded or surrendered any of our territory. As a result of our action, 67 protesters were arrested. We refused to give our names or cooperate with authorities, and we were held for one month.

The following year, Olympic skier Nancy Greene-Raine came to our community meeting to propose the Cayoosh Ski Resort—a $500-million facility with accommodations for 12,000 visitors year-round. She was asked to leave the meeting, since the resort was seen as undesirable by the people. Greene-Raine's resort development firm, NGR Consultants, would destroy the forests—the natural habitat of the grizzly bear, mountain goat, wolverine and many of the natural medicines that we use in this area. NGR Consultants would sell our water and destroy the last untouched watershed within our St'at'imc territory. It would build a highway, hotels, a golf course, ski hills galore and an all-season resort/retirement home for the rich. The resort would open up our St'at'imc territory to development; our untouched lands would fill with hotels and homes, all belonging to outsiders.

Months went by, but political maneuvering by the developers continued behind closed doors. By Spring 2000, it became clear that the ski resort would probably be approved within the year. In response, the women of Lil'wat sent the men into the mountains to set up a blockade and protest camp to stop this resort from being built.

The Sutikalh camp—named for the St'at'imc "Winter Spirit" who dwells in the mountains—was set up on May 2, 2000. These mountains are where our medicine people and ancestors went to stay for weeks and even years to learn of Our songs and medicines. We have been using the land for hundreds of years, as we still use it in many ways today. Other religions go to churches to pray; we go to the mountains.

The next day, we notified our chiefs at the Lillooet Tribal Council of our actions and the reasons for them. On June 11, more than 120 people—chiefs, elders and members of all 11 St'at'imc communities—gathered at Sutikalh. We, the people, then decided that we would stand together to stop the proposed ski development.

Our camp has had opposition from loggers, hikers, bikers, hunters, skidoo riders, ATV riders, tourists and even some of our own people. We have been threatened with words, shot at with guns and had our informational booth set on fire. But the greatest insult came on August 14, 2000, when the Environmental Assessment Office approved the Cayoosh Ski Resort.

Three days later, we set up a new roadblock to oppose the certification of the development. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the St'at'imc Tribal Police set up their own blockades at both ends of the corridor to stop St'at'imc people from joining our blockade. Some of us went to Vancouver to demonstrate at the stock exchange and let stockholders know that we meant business. The Lillooet Tribal Council also produced a letter to NCR Consultants, signed by all 11 chiefs of the 11 communities of the St'at'imc territory, denouncing the resort and making it clear that the plan had no support from the St'at'imc.

By the afternoon of August 18, we had made our point, so we took down the road blockade. The RCMP did nothing to protect our peaceful camp against violent oppositionists.

We then held a rally in Mt. Currie, to ask people to come out and vote against the resort in an October 2, 2000, referendum. More than 85 percent of the voters opposed the resort. Some of the communities had no referendum, because they opposed the resort unanimously.

Years have passed, and the camp has endured. On July 27, NCR Consultants applied for an extension on its development permit, which was due to expire on August 14. Company representative Al Raine, still trying to ignore our resistance, told the press that the Indian problem is in the hands of the government.

The provincial government notified only two of our communities of this application. All of the St'at'imc should have been notified and asked for comment. In the original permit from 2000, it was stated that in order to get an extension, construction had to be substantially started within five years. Yet the developers have,not even begun construction on the project.

In spite of these illegalities, the provincial government granted the extension on August 11. The government called it a temporary extension because it still believes that the St'at'imc Chiefs Council will negotiate about the resort. But our chiefs stand firm, and so do we.

We have been at our Sutikalh camp for five years now, and we plan to stay. We have had many visitors— some with their own agenda, some sent in as infiltrators, some who were just curious. Many have come from around the world to support us. Many First Nations communities and organizations from across Canada and the US, including the Union of British Columbian Indian Chiefs and the Native Youth Movement, have visited us and publicly voiced support for our cause. When local people and tourists stop at our informational checkpoints, we tell them about the lies in the ski resort's application, the lies about our animals and our lands, the falsely promised jobs, and all of the broken agreements and the unconcern for our territory. The whole world now knows of the plan to build a resort on our land, and the people of the world are standing with us in opposition to this massive development.

When you travel between Mt. Currie and Lillooet, there are countless breathtaking country scenes, with all of the beautiful colors of Mother Nature's palette. This is a place for wildlife to roam; a place where the stream water is pure enough to drink; a place where you can breathe in the fresh air and, on a clear night, you can see all the stars in the sky; a place that was made by the Creator with all creatures in mind. All of this exists within the St'at'imc Nation. We cannot see it destroyed for the sake of the almighty dollar. Money will disappear quickly, but the land will be there for thousands of years to come.

We have said from day one that there will never be a ski resort in Sutikalh, and we say that still, today.

For more information, contact Sutikalh-Melvin Creek Camp, FOB 309, Mt. Currie, BC VON 2KO, Canada; (604) 894-2400; (604) 894-6841 (fax).

Rosalin Sam, a Lil'watool of the St'at'imc, is a mother and grandmother working to protect the St'at'imc territory—for the sake of the ancestors who fought for it at the cost of their blood, and for the future for her grandchildren's grandchildren.

© Earth First! Journal September-October 2005