A trio of peaks west of Harrison Lake sit on Sts’ailes traditional territory and have a deep history and meaning to the First Nations band. That’s why Sts’ailes was concerned when they received a letter about the province’s proposal to name the peaks – or essentially, re-name the peaks – after three Fraser Valley soldiers who lost their lives serving in Afghanistan.
The BC Geographical Names Office told the Observer in an emailed statement that it received proposals from the familes of the soldiers, and sent letters to Sts’ailes asking if there are existing traditional names for the mountains and to request comments on the proposal – which already included the names of the fallen soldiers.
Sts’ailes chief Ralph Leon used Facebook to comment on a news story about the proposal.
“These mtns have been named long long ago…with proud history’s. Are we being asked to rename and forget? Our ancestoral names come from these places with pride…” he wrote.
The province’s letter was sent to learn if there was traditional names for each mountain and “whether the proposed names reflect the heritage values in the area.” It also noted that adopting the names “does not prejudice legitimate claims to the land.”
The Sts’ailes elder with the knowledge of the traditional mountain names has passed away, making it difficult to protect the range, but the peaks still grace the core of Sts’ailes land and are critical to the identity of the people who have called the area home for thousands of years.
Sts’ailes rights and title manager Boyd Peters said the band will have to craft an official response to the proposal.
“We do respect the people that go to war to defend Canada,” he said, adding that early engagement would have offered Sts’ailes the ability to explain the significance of the land before the province’s proposal was even made.
“We do a lot of research and we defend our territory which is very sacred to us…We protect the lands and water and resources that are integral to our Sts’ailes identity and our permanence.”
“Our sacred mother earth really expresses our spiritual, physical and cultural connection to the land, and our waters and our resources,” he added. “It’s part of our identity and who we are. The sacredness of those areas are really important to us for our continued existence.
According to Peters the province has been working with the band on a high-level agreement regarding names and signage in Sts’ailes territory.
“We haven’t come to an agreement yet, but it’s something we’re still working through,” he said.
With files from Tyler Olsen.