Thompson-Nicola Indigenous bands still reeling from flood that destroyed highway

The reopening of Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge is a major event for Aboriginal people in the area.

The land of the four bands was affected, and their members were vital to the reconstruction.

Flooding that began on November 14, 2021 caused damage to land in the Nooaitch Indian Band, Cook’s Ferry, Shackan and Nicomen.

Shawn Clough, senior program manager at BC Highways, said the corridor lost about 20 hectares of agricultural land.

Shackan was one of the hardest hit companies.

Shackan land is known as a “mudslide” site where fertile land is washed away by mud.

“It’s a very large damaged place,” Clough said. “We work 24/7.”

Speaking to the media on November 9, 2022, the day the highway reopens to the public, Shackan Indian Band chief Arnold Lambro said the flooding has affected every aspect of daily life.

“When you look at the countryside and see how it’s been destroyed, our animals aren’t there, our food isn’t there…once, that’s what we depended on.”

Cook’s ferry chief Christine Minnabarriet echoed Lambro’s sentiments, adding that reopened highways restored the ability to “connect families and bring them home”.

“It provides a connection to each other, our resources, hunting, fishing, gathering, and even spirituality, but also to health care and other emergency services.”

Transport Minister Rob Fleming said about 30 per cent of the workers tasked with reopening the highway were Aboriginal, providing skilled labour, heavy equipment operations and environmental and archaeological work.

“This is vastly beyond what you typically see in heavy construction projects. I think[about]sustainability and Indigenous engagement to keep this corridor going,” Fleming said.

“Chief Minnabarriet spoke about the opportunities this natural disaster could bring. It’s through restoration, of course in the years to come.”

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BC Flood 2021 Highway Chaos Merritt Okanagan Thompson Nicola Area District

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