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'WE'VE ALWAYS HAD CLEAN WATER', XENI GWET'IN CHIEF LULUA
Phone interview with Chief Jimmy Lulua, May 27, 2021. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - I have Chief Lulua here from...(Xeni Gwetíin)
Chief Lulua - Its honey, like your bee honey, ďhoney gweh-teenĒ
WT - Chief, thanks for doing this and welcome.
Chief Lulua - Thanks for having me, good to be here.
WT - Can you tell me a little bit about your community, how big it is, where it is, a little bit about that?
Chief Lulua - Yes, Iím Jimmy Lulua, from Xeni current elected Chief, we are the
caretakers for the area, for the only (Aboriginal) titled land in Canada, that we know of.
We are part of Ts^ilhqot'in Nation, we are one community of 6 that make up our nation, Ts^ilhqot'in Nation. We are the headwaters of Tsilhgo Lake.
Member-wise, we have 440 people registered. Tsilhgo Lake a very rural community, we are about
3 hours from the closest town, which is Williams Lake, west from Williams Lake.
WT - You are a fly-in community, are you?
Chief Lulua Ė No, we arenít a fly in community but we only have one road in and one road out, itís a rough road, its been rough for a long time.
The road wasnít pushed in until the 70ís, it wasnít engineered or designed, someone kind of knew where we were and pushed a road in with a dozer, and it hasnít improved much since then.
WT - You have been on Boil Water Advisory (BWA) for some time, can you tell me about that, how long you have been on it and how this came to be?
Chief Lulua - Iíve only been Chief for 3 years, so I donít know all the history on the duration of the BWA but you know how government works, they have mandates they have to follow, and it's pretty hard for them to think outside the box.
Our community has always had really good water, the only reason they keep us on it (BWA) is because we wouldnít allow them to put chlorine into our water system.
A lot of our people, First Nation people are not used to having chlorine, it makes us sick. No different from milk, we are still lactose intolerant. Our bodies havenít adjusted to whatís normal to a westerner, people who are not from this area.
Our water has always been clean, as long as I can remember, from when I was a kid. Iím 36 years old, so, not that old.
Just recently we lifted the boil water advisory in coordination with the federal government of Canada.
WT - So you have a new water plant at this point do you?
Chief Lulua - Yes. In the last couple years, a lot of work has been going on in partnership with federal government. We have a UV plant just across from our office here, that serves the majority of our community. Thereís the secondary one down near Tsilhgo lake there, similar UV plant, thatís how they treat the water.
WT - Does the UV plant use chlorination, or is it skipping that step?
Chief Lulua - We are skipping that step.
WT - OK so, how much money did the water plant cost, and when was it finished?
Chief Lulua - It was just finished about a year ago, I guess. Its been going through the trial and tribulation of when youíre putting something in, and you have to work out the kinks, so finally the kinks are worked out, so for the last year that they have been doing the testing, the water has been really great, but like I said before, our water has always been that, glacier fed, we always had good water anyways, we didnít need anybody to come in and fix our water, we already knew...
WT - Would you have any advice to other bands who themselves have been under BWAs for quite a length of time, in dealing with the feds?
Chief Lulua - It's pretty tough for First Nations to empower themselves and to work as a Nation.
The Ts^ilhqot'in Nation is one of the most unique nations around, probably one of the reasons we have title is we work as a nation. Having Aboriginal rights and title might be part of it, still being united and able to work collaboratively with five other Chiefs, your strength is in numbers.
We are bound by the history of our people, our Nation has gone to war before, there are things for us, our ancestors left breadcrumbs for us to follow and we follow their footsteps, but we try to create our own path along the way also, but I would say working nation to nation, government to government is probably your best bet, Minister rank on Minister.
WT - Do you have business development projects underway where you are, that you would need help with, that you would want to let our viewers know what you are up to, tourism? Or where do you want to go with all this clean water and with your situation as it stands right now?
Chief Lulua - Every community is different, I would say, you know how our community works is it's community-driven, so we do assemblies every month, all the decisions are driven by the community, over the last twenty, thirty years the community is pretty good at following a direction, it's pretty straightforward, we only take what we need, it shouldnít affect the longevity of Xeni Gwetíinís environment. Right now, if you look at our area, it's pretty lush, we have everything that you could want in our area, trees that havenít been logged out.
WT - Oh thatís neat, you have original old growth trees still there?
Chief Lulua - Yeah, yep.
WT - You donít hear that often these days.
Chief Lulua - We had the New Zealand Maori people come here, they talked to us, to help them, their people, you know we have some of the cleanest water around, you know, we can jump in any lake here and drink it, you canít say that for anywhere else.
We have full control, Aboriginal rights and title, is what give us that control.
The people, they follow all of their traditions and culture, so the water will always be the way it is.
WT - I appreciate you doing this, I hope the water does stay pristine where you are, thanks for doing this.
Chief Lulua - Not a problem, all right, have a good day.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article , the name of the band , XENI GWET'IN was misspelled. We apologize for this oversight.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
A VIEW FROM THE REZ