A flag with an eagle crest blows in the wind above a logging road that shows the concave impressions of roofs of ancient pit-houses. Looking up, mountains are scarred from clear-cutting and pine beetle infestations, and the haze of forest fires lies over the horizon. Downward sits a camp of tents and tipis, where Elders visit, laugh and share stories with guests.
Four months ago Christine Jack, a St’át’imc hunter and fisher, and Ken Thomas, a St’át’imc Elder, set up camp here, near Lillooet, B.C. This is the unceded territory of the St’át’imc (Xwisten First Nations) at Junction Creek in the Yalakom Valley. The area was used for thousands of years as a village site and trading ground where Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in and St’át’imc people came to trade, hunt, gather and process foods and medicines.
Jack and Thomas reoccupied the land after logging company Aspen Planers was found to have been cutting trees on the site of an ancient village. It laid thin sheeting and gravel over what is believed to be an indentation of an ancient pit-house. Thomas, who worked in the logging industry for 50 years, once discovered a millennia-old spear point here.
Much of the Junction Creek area was slated for clear-cutting in the 1990s. A full archaeological assessment was never done, as St’át’imc communities wanted jurisdiction over the process. Using their own contractors to complete impact assessments, they discovered 49 archaeological sites. These independent archaeological studies did not keep logging companies at bay.
The camp, called Voice of the Voiceless, is open to anyone willing to help out with daily chores, according to organizers. It serves as more than a place to protect the forest. The camp is part of spiritual and traditional reconnection, explains Jack, making it a place for healing and reclamation of stolen land. In June the camp held a ceremony for the reopening of the village.
Camp residents remain opposed to Aspen Planers’ intent to return to the cut blocks in the territory and disturb the area further. The company’s clean-up would likely involve cutting and burning wood, resulting in the further depletion of St’át’imc resources.
The clean-up could also contaminate the local water supply and damage archeological artifacts and the pit-houses located just below the ground surface.
During our stay a group of Indigenous Filipino activists travelled to the camp and shared stories of resistance to Canadian mining corporations in their homelands. Dini Ze Toghestiy brought five years of experience of reoccupying traditional Indigenous territory as part of the Unist’ot’en Camp, which stands in the path of multiple proposed pipelines within wet'suwet'en territory in northern B.C.
At this time establishing camps on traditional territories may be one of the most effective ways to assert indigenous sovereignty and protect against the constant encroachment of government and corporations. The Voice of the Voiceless camp made clear the building of solidarity and collaboration between geographically distant Indigenous struggles.