Lheidli T’enneh Nation received more than $8 million in government funding to develop a B.C. park.
Officials said Ancient Forest or Chun T’oh Whuduju (in the local Dakelh language) is the only inland temperate rainforest in the world.
The money will be used to showcase the nation’s history, develop the park and preserve the area.
On Tuesday, Dayi or Chief Clayton Pountney spoke students from the University of Northern British Columbia at the park, about 100 km outside Prince George.
The university’s research was vital in protecting the forest when its study was published in the B.C. Journal of Ecosystems and Management, followed by extensive peer review.
Volunteers maintained the area, along with community members, while it became a provincial park in 2016.
It is now protected from potential logging and disruptions of the ecosystem.
According to B.C. Parks, it is home to cedar trees that are over a thousand years old.
“The forest is something we have to protect; it’s an inland rainforest that is not seen anywhere else in the world. The plant species and that you find in here are very rare,” said Pountney.
“You will not find any of them anywhere else in BC. So it been an area of our history that we have always been protecting.”
Lheidli’s Economic Development Manager Rena Zatorski says the Nation got involved in the collaboration with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. Government in 2018.
They formed a working group of Lheidli T’enneh members who formulated a park-management plan.
They started seeking input from University of Northern British Columbia and Caledonia Ramblers – a local hiking club that maintained the trails.
When new funding became available from the federal and provincial governments, the nation applied.
“This is Lheidli T’enneh focused, and it was a huge success. We put in the application in January of 2019, and we recently heard we were successful, I believe in March of 2020,” said Zatorski.
The Nation will upgrade existing boardwalks in the park and provide signage in their traditional language.
They will also build an interpretive centre and teaching sites for traditional practices.
Zatorski said the international desire for Indigenous tourism will make the Ancient Forest a sought after destination.
“Indigenous experiences are a huge international attraction in terms of tourism,” she said.
“Our ability to share our history, our knowledge, especially in a unique place such as the Ancient Forest – it is the only inland rainforest in the entire world.”
The partnership with B.C. Parks will give Lheidli T’enneh the ability to hire and train community members to manage Ancient Forest Park.
“By sharing this beautiful, unique spot in the world, we are, in fact, preserving it and it’s giving us the ability to share who we are as Lheidli Tenneh,” said Zatorski.
Construction is set to take place after the winter.
Pountney views it as a part of their cultural revitalization and strengthening relations with the government.
“It’s a great place to showcase the history for Lheidli because we are starting to revitalize our culture and revitalize the uses we have been doing for so long,” he said.
“So it’s great to see this up and coming. It’s great to see the governments and us have all come together to put together a collaborative approach to this whole piece.”