NEMIAH: THE UNCONQUERED COUNTRY
Volume 21 Number 4
This book is part of a public relations campaign and certainly makes no effort to cover both sides of the deteriorating political situation. Despite this, it is a title that should not be ignored by high schools and public libraries. Although it focuses on the people of one remote valley in the Interior Plateau of British Columbia, it raises some tough questions about the Native land question that have relevance from coast to coast. Aside from that, it is also an interesting and informative piece of Canadiana.
On the level of Canadian travelogue, it offers a truly fascinating pictorial and anecdotal study of the incredibly beautiful Cariboo region 200 miles northwest of Vancouver. There are some 50 artistic photographs of scenery and/or people and a deceptively simple text that intertwines descriptions of contemporary life-style with legends, stories and historical events.
There seems no doubt that this lovely valley is home to an extraordinary people. They remember the violent clash with colonial authorities in the 1860s, devastating outbreaks of disease, and the infamous boarding schools, but are not bitter. The families of the Nemiah simply want to remain as they are.
That is the problem. Of course, they do not long for the brutality and warfare of pre-contact conditions. Whenever they speak of the "old ways" it is of cowboy times: horses, small ranches, cowboy clothes, simple farm equipment, and rodeos. The hope seems to be to remain encapsulated somewhere in the 1940s. In particular, what they want no part of whatsoever is large-scale forestry.
Recently, the danger of a crisis has become more extreme because the Ministry, wanting to cut out lodgepole pine affected by the pine park beetle, has permitted more clear-cutting than usual. However, even if that had not happened, the insatiable demands of mills would lead to requests for cutting in the Valley. So, there it is, ecology and Native life-style against rapacious sawmills.
Lumber and pulp production provides the only significant number of industrial jobs in this area, and forestry is the economic engine or the entire region. Interestingly, a good proportion of the workers are recent immigrants from the Punjab who have left ancestral homes to find work. They must be amazed by the determination of people like the author who feel so strongly about the need to preserve a dated life-style for a few at the expense of many thousands of workers. It is difficult to see where the compromises will come.
Howard Hurt is a librarian with the Education Library at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia.
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