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Kaska chief stands up for the land

Walter Carlick is a serious man. He is the chief of the Lower Post Daylu Dene council and he is mindful of what he calls the honour and the privilege of his position.

Walter Carlick is a serious man. He is the chief of the Lower Post Daylu Dene council and he is mindful of what he calls the honour and the privilege of his position. To be a part of the emergence of his people, the Kaska, as a strong political force is something of a dream for him.

We met in the recplex, sitting at a table outside the concession for this interview. As I have come to expect from conversations of this nature with First Nations people, Carlick was focused, honest, and interested in the process.

Although he attended the residential school in Lower Post, Carlick refuses the label of “survivor.”
“I did the therapy; I acknowledged and dealt with the painful part of residential school, and then I chose to move on. What happened is part of my life; it’s my interpretation of the experience that makes it part of who I am. I chose not to let any negativity about it rule the rest of my life.”

The land is Carlick’s care and concern. His family has a cabin on the banks of the Liard River. As a child first, with his parents, then as an adult, with his own children, and now as a grandfather with his grandchildren, the connection to the land with relationships is always there. When he speaks of the times spent at the cabin, his voice and his face reveal his love for those times.
“We go every fall to hunt, to cut meat. We set nets for fish and snares for rabbits. It is the best thing about being here, using the land in the old way and caring for the land. I am happy my children enjoyed those times, and that my grandchildren like it now.”

Carlick doesn’t speak Kaska, but he feels the language is still strong in that it is used in all the meetings. He admits there may be some problems in keeping the language in use; none of his children speak it, for instance.

He may lack the spoken Kaska, but the other facets of his culture have not left him, have been treasured, and added to. It is a source of pride that he knows how to survive on the land, and he has learned the necessary skills, such as the art of making snowshoes.

The role of the elders is still strong, too. What the elders have to say is taken into consideration when leadership makes decisions, just as it has always been.

What about the role of Kaska women? How is it different today from what it was in the old times?
“In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, the women took the lead,” Carlick said. “The men took a back seat, but many of them are waking up and learning to participate more, to get involved.”

One of the things that hurts and angers me is to see how many of our people are still caught up in drinking and abusing drugs. It prevents them, men and women, from participating in determining their future.

There are other divisions among our people that I would like to see resolved; to see them come together more, and work together, would be good.”

When asked about how the two cultures in the Watson Lake area are different, Carlick was quick to respond: “The biggest difference is that my people are still dependent on the land. We will not give up our right to the land. Any decisions about it must be joint decisions, the two cultures working together.
“It is taking too long for us to learn to work together, but I think the changing economic climate may hurry the process. A depressed economy will make it happen; more co-operation. I believe it is possible for First Nations and white people to jointly manage the land, but it isn’t easy getting there.”
“What are the effects of global concerns on you and your community?” I asked.
“The thing that comes to mind right away is that I can’t drink the water from some of the streams and rivers now. Its hard to believe that has happened, but the result of some mining activities has made some of the water in the bush unsafe to drink. Environmental damage is evident, even here in this remote place.”
“The BC Kaska are looking at mining development and one of the concerns is environmental harm. We need to know they will leave the land healthy; there is already too much evidence to show they haven’t done that in the past.”

Carlick is a man of his people and it was an effort getting him to speak of himself. He did, finally, but the view of oneself as a part of the group was evident in this process.

What are your hopes for yourself?
“I just want to keep doing what I am doing. I feel I am really lucky to be a part of what is happening now with the Kaska and I want to do the very best I can in my role.”

Your kids; what do you want for your kids?
“I want them to be happy, of course. I want them to find their place in the world, wherever that might be.”

The final question of the interview was to ask Carlick to tell us something about himself that would not be generally known.
“Those shows on TV? The ones where some people get together and build a house for a family that has nothing; that sort of show, or movie, of people being good to one another? I don’t cry” he insists, “but I get feeling emotional.”

Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.