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Tse-loh-ne (The People at the End of the Rocks): Journey Down the Davie Trail

By Keith Billington

Review By Robin Ridington

October 28, 2013

BC Studies no. 178 Summer 2013  | p. 143-144

Keith Billington has had a long career as a nurse in British Columbia and the Yukon as well as being Band Manager for the Fort Ware Sekani/Kaska band (later known as Kwadacha Nation). The first part of the book is a frank, sometimes humorous, but unvarnished account of his experiences as band manager. He describes both the amazing bush skills of the people as well as the failings of some due to alcohol, isolation, and the trauma of residential school. Billington provides a thorough review of the sometimes confusing history of the former Fort Graham and Fort Ware communities following the disruptions and dislocations caused by the Bennett Dam. Fort Graham, now under water, was initially relocated near Mackenzie until a determined group of Sekani took it into their own hands to find a more suitable site at the mouth of the Finlay River. The band was finally recognized as Tse Keh Dene (which for some reason Billington spells Tse Keh Dena as in Kaska Dena) with help in litigation from Tribal Chief Ed John.

Billington has spent a lot of time on the land and is familiar with travelling by dog team and on foot. That experience prepared him as well as possible for the trek along the 460 kilometers of the Davie Trail through the Rocky Mountain Trench. Atse Davie was a Sekani leader in the early twentieth century and the patriarch of a strongly independent band. Diamond Jenness described Davie in his 1937 ethnography. The trail named for him passes through the Rocky Mountain Trench, a corridor once thought to have commercial potential but now one of the most isolated areas in British Columbia. Many Kwadacha band members were familiar with portions of the trail from their winter trapping, but few had walked it in the summertime. Two of these were Charlie Boya and his wife Hazel, who had a trapping cabin at Terminus Mountain about halfway between Kwadacha and Lower Post, the trail’s southern and northern ends. The expedition began as a way of showing continued use of a traditional hunting and trapping area further to land claims negotiations. It went on to be an adventure as well. Billington describes the country they encountered in a detail that is only available by travelling through it on foot. There were creeks and rivers to cross, once by raft, and more than one encounter with bears.

The book is well illustrated with archival and contemporary photographs of the people mentioned as well as a map showing Sekani territory. Caitlin Press has a distinguished record of publishing authors with intimate knowledge of people and places in British Columbia, although an index would have been of value here. The book is a good read as well as an important contribution to British Columbian First Nations history.

Tse-loh-ne (The People at the End of the Rocks): Journey Down the Davie Trail
By Keith Billington
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2012. 256 pp, $22.95  paper

BC Studies, no. 178, Summer 2013.