Recent History – 2001-2003
September 20, 2002
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
The conflict between Kelly Lake and Saulteau First Nations is over.
Kelly Lake First Nation (KLFN) spokesperson Corinne Shearer said a blockade that the band had set up about 120 kilometres south of Dawson Creek has been down since Saturday.
Shearer said the Saulteaux has promised to allow the KLFN to become their own separate band, and that the KLFN is now in the process of setting up their own band office.
“In essence, we’ve succeeded what we’ve set out to do,” she said Thursday.
Shearer said the Saulteau has the support of their membership to sign a band council resolution to allow the KLFN to separate, but there are still plenty of technical issues to work through.
“What needs to be worked out now is the legal stuff, to make sure that we’re not taking any of their assets as well as their liabilities with us,” she said. “You know, we start fresh, we start new.”
The blockade had been put up on September 5, at the Rat Lake entrance to the Wapiti River alongside the Old Heritage Highway. KLFN members were refusing to allow Saulteau to cross into land they claimed as their traditional territory.
The effort to break away dates back much further than that. In 1994, they gained their native status and two years later began to agitate for separation from the Saulteau.
But Shearer said that the Saulteau were preoccupied with getting their own house in order first.
“There was a lot of turmoil in the band and I think that was one of the big hold ups, they had to resolve a lot of their own issues first,” Shearer said.
She added that there was plenty of talking at cross-purposes and miscommunication to complicate matters. But it’s all in the past.
“Saulteau can’t be blamed for everything. We have to do a certain amount of accountability ourselves,” she said.
Becoming recognized by the federal government may take some time — Shearer said it could be a matter of months or years — but in the interim she said that the KLFN will still function like a fully-fledged First Nation.
“In a sense, the separation is there because we’re going to act as an independent band,” she said.
About 160 people live in Kelly Lake of which 91 are of voting age, and of that total, 74 are members of the KLFN. The rest of the adult population in Kelly Lake consists of about a dozen Metis, a group that settled the area in about 1820, and a handful of Cree who belong to the Kelly Lake Cree Nations.
Shearer said that the Metis will not be left out of the equation.
“The band office will help everybody that lives there.”
The next order of business is to find a home for the band office — which will likely be a mobile trailer for the time being.
Members of the Saulteau band council did not return a phone message Thursday.