The reopening of Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge was a significant event for Indigenous peoples in the area.
Lands of four bands were impacted, and their members were crucial to rebuilding.
The flood that began Nov. 14, 2021 caused devastation to the lands of the Nooaitch Indian Band, Cook’s Ferry, Shackan and Nicomen.
BC Highways Senior Project Manager Shawn Clough said about 20 hectares of agricultural land was lost in the corridor.
Shackan was one of the hardest hit.
The Shackan land was dubbed a ‘debris flow’ site, where fertile lands were washed away by mud.
“It was a very large, devastated site,” said Clough. “We worked 24/7.”
Shackan Indian Band Chief Arnold Lambreau, who spoke to media on the day the highway reopened to the public on Nov. 9, 2022, said the flood impacted every aspect of day-to-day life.
“When you look at the countryside, and how it’s been devastated, our animals are not there, our sustenance is not there… At one time, that’s what we relied on.”
Cook’s Ferry Chief Christine Minnabarriet echoed Lambreau’s sentiments, adding that the reopened highway restores the ability to “connect families and bring them home.”
“It provides connection to each other, our resources, hunting, fishing, gathering, even spiritual, but also to health care and other emergency services.”
Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming said approximately 30 per cent of workers responsible for reopening the highway were Indigenous, providing skilled labour, heavy equipment operation and environmental and archaeological work.
“That’s massively over what you would normally see on a heavy construction project. I think (about) sustainability and Indigenous participation in maintaining that corridor going forward,” said Fleming.
“Chief Minnabarriet talked about opportunities that may come out of this natural disaster. It was through the restoration and of course it will be in the years to come.”