On Wednesday, January 11, a small band of First Nations set up a road block on Highway 27 at Necoslie Rd, which went on until roughly 6 p.m. the following day. At the longest, the trucks were backed up a kilometre past the five corners to the liquor store.
The roadblock, unsanctioned by the Nak’azdli Band Council, created significant tension in Fort St. James as truckers idled away their hours, and city and band officials did their best to communicate with the leaders of the roadblock.
Despite being unsanctioned, the Nak’azdli Band council empathized with the protesters.
“Members are frustrated with the non-stop resource extraction and the impacts it’s having on our city,” said Tamara Sam early on in the roadblock.
Police were on the scene soon after the roadblock began to make sure the tension didn’t turn violent, and to guide private vehicles on the, then single-lane, highway.
Members of the roadblock were not talking to the press for the extent of the time they were on the road.
The roadblock was thought to be planned by Keyoh holders, according to Chief Fred Sam. Keyoh holders are traditional stewards of the land, who do not have the same standing with the government that the chief and band council has.
With the backlog of trucks, and the chatter on the radios, misinformation was rife amongst the drivers in their idling trucks.
No truckers wanted to be quoted for the story, but rumours of a continued roadblock until Saturday met with frustrated confusion amongst the truckers. As the day moved onwards frustration mounted in the cabs of the trucks. One trucker even claimed that his wife was having a baby, while he was stuck in Fort St. James.
Around three p.m.the road began to clear as truckers ran out of hours they could legally drive, and had to turn back to stop for the night.
“I think (the protesters) are targeting the wrong people,” said Mayor Rob MacDougall, “all (the truckers) are trying to do is make a living.”
Early on an injunction was requested, according to MacDougall, as the protesters had told them if an injunction was acquired they would pack up the roadblock. Unfortunately an injunction wasn’t forthcoming, and the roadblock carried on through the night, as protesters lit fires in cold evening air.
The second day of the roadblock brought more discussion between the protesters, police and the band council.
In these discussions the band focused on the demand of the protesters for a safer highway through the reserve.
A worry for many years, highway safety came to a head last year when 11-year-old Nolan Alexis was hit and killed on Highway 27 on the reserve.
Although not the only demand of the protesters, highway safety became the main issue of the roadblock as it touches on many issues.
“Highway safety comes from some of the many other issues,” said Tamara Sam. Including the increase of trucks hauling resources through the reserve.
Pete Erickson, a local Keyoh holder, acted as the negotiator for the protestors on the second day of the roadblock.
“The issue can be summed up in one word: safety,” Erickson sent out in a press release, “this is an issue that all Fort St. James residents can relate with due to the increase in traffic.”
A Call for Provincial Input
“We’re looking to the government to re-establish ties with the Nak’azdli and renew discussions on the decision making on our lands,” said Sam.
Following a call for higher level government participation, MLA John Rustad arrived in Fort St. James late Friday afternoon to participate in the negotiations with the protesters in hopes of getting the protesters to take down their roadblock.
The final negotiation session was held in the late afternoon on the twelfth.
“In the late afternoon we got together with a representative from the protesters, MLA John Rustad, the mayor, and Rosemary Sam (Health Councillor for the band) and came to a resolution,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Thalhofer of the Fort St. James detachment of the RCMP.
The talks focused mainly on safety.
“The biggest issue is safety,” said Rustad, “And that was the focus of our discussions.”
After having received commitments on safety from the various levels of government, and the police, the protesters dismantled the roadblock at roughly 6 p.m. on Jan. 12th, letting traffic resume its flow.