It doesn’t take much of a scratch to expose the tension that lies beneath the native and non-native people in Chilliwack.
When an unauthorized toll was set up on Soowahlie territory after the main road from Cultus Lake was blocked, the online discussion quickly devolved into an angry exchange over aboriginal rights.
But while those kinds of comments show the lingering need for an educated conversation regarding how B.C. deals with the consequences of colonization, and the unfinished business of aboriginal rights and title, the Cultus Lake incident needn’t be that complicated.
The issue here is about private property rights versus being a good neighbour.
Soowahlie Road runs through the heart of the residential portion of the Soowahlie reserve. The gate, which was erected last year, was in reaction to the yahoos who raced through the property, thinking they had found a backroad shortcut around the traditional summertime congestion. Families who didn’t want their neighbourhood to become a thoroughfare decided to limit access. They erected a gate, which they are entitled to do, leaving open another road as an alternative.
On Saturday, when the windstorm took down a tree and closed the main road out of Cultus Lake, some enterprising individuals decided they would open the gate – for a price.
It was an unfortunate decision.
Tolls on roads and bridges are not a new concept. But this was a crass attempt to profit off the misfortune of others.
There should be no question that the Soowahlie are within their rights to control access to their territory – similar (although not the same) to how a strata can limit access to its gated community.
But just because someone has the right to close the road and charge access, that does not make it right.
In times of adversity, we become stronger when we work together as a community. When it rains, we offer an umbrella; when a cupboard is empty, we help fill it.
This tradition runs strong in the aboriginal and non-aboriginal community alike.
It would be a shame to allow the actions of a few – and the reactions of others – cloud that shared commitment.