Territorial rights and local political support are keeping work in progress at the Eagle Pass Summit lookout, despite a stop-work order issued by the B.C. government.
On Oct. 28, Rene St. Onge and Guy Maris, the two who spearheaded a volunteer effort to reconstruct the 1922 fire lookout, took a helicopter trip to the stout and sturdy structure. The two were accompanied by Splatsin band councillors Dennis George and Daniel Joe, and Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz.
The trip wasn’t just to check out the cabin or the snowy panoramic view. The three local politicians were also there to do some work. They hauled in and assembled new bunk beds and mattresses. They added a table as well, further enhancing the coziness of the 14 by 14 foot structure. And they hung flag on the cabin’s exterior, the flag of the Secwepemc First Nation – Secwepemculecw: the Land of the Shuswap.
“This was important to us because it is within Splatsin territory, which is our band, and within our nation’s territory, the Secwepemc people of the Shuswap,” said Dennis.
Dennis said the Splatsin chief and council have embraced and fully support the project, and do not wish to see the cabin torn down – a possible outcome of an investigation currently being conducted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
“It’s a real concern to us,” said Dennis. “People come in and say, ‘you didn’t do that, you’re going to tear it down.’ There’s always compromise.
“For our people, that’s sort of what we do. We look for the compromise.”
The ministry’s stop-work order was put into effect on Sept. 5. By then, much of the reconstruction work, which began in the summer of 2016, had been completed. It was issued after a compliance and enforcement officer with the ministry learned of the volunteer project and suggested it be burned or torn down, allegedly because provincial approval hadn’t been received beforehand.
Ministry spokesperson Jeremy Uppenborn confirmed the reconstruction project is currently under investigation, to determine whether the structure is in contravention of the Forest and Range Practices Act. He said the investigator has the authority to order the site be left as is, levy a penalty or order remediation of the site.
St. Onge said he attempted to acquire provincial approval to reconstruct the cabin, but was told by a manager with FrontCounter BC in Kamloops it wasn’t needed because the work would be done on an existing structure.
“What they need to do is say, ‘you know what, there was a miscommunication,'” said St. Onge. “‘There was permission for this cabin, it’s beautiful, thank you very much.’ That’s all you need to do.”
St. Onge stressed the recent work in the cabin was done solely by the politicians, not himself or Maris. He credits the Splatsin for understanding what the project is about – that the cabin is for everyone’s benefit, for future generations.
“It’s a great thing for all parties concerned,” agrees Dennis. “For us, again, we’re asserting our rights. For all the others, it’s history. It’s history of the area and preserving that history…
“It’s for people that want to get back out on the land. It’s for the enjoyment of all. The more people that you get out there like that, the more you’re going to be taking care of the environment and that’s part of what we do and what we preach and what we teach, because we are the Yucwmenlúcwu, the caretakers of the land. And we take that seriously.”
During the Oct. 28 visit to the cabin, a copy of the stop-work order that had been taped its door was nowhere to be seen. St. Onge guesses it was removed by someone upset by the situation. If the order had been on the door, Rysz said he likely would have gone in and helped out anyway.
“After flying up there and seeing that, I probably would have because I think I really respect what those guys did,” said Rysz. “That project was taken on the shoulders of a few people and they went forward with it and rebuilt it and, from my perspective, that’s going to be a huge asset for the entire region, because people will probably come from all over the world to take a hike up into there or find a way to get there.”
Rysz said council has a meeting with Ministry of Forests staff on Nov. 21 regarding a regional community forest project the District of Sicamous, the Splatsin and the City of Enderby wish to partner in. He said the Eagle Pass lookout cabin will be included in that discussion.
“If that was to be destroyed, it would be heinous,” said Rysz. “I mean, honest to god, it has got so much potential for us when it comes to tourism. When you’re in that building on the top of that pinnacle, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. It was an amazing experience. it’s one thing to maybe look at it on the Internet… to actually go up there and experience, it’s incredible.”
A petition asking the province to preserve the reconstructed Eagle Pass Summit fire lookout can be found at www.change.org.