Lhukw ba nits’unih (Fish Camp)
In 2005 the Lheidli T'enneh Fish Camp was constructed in partnership with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation to help preserve the history of the Lheidli T’enneh, and share the story of their people's lifestyles during the early 1900s and before.
The construction of the Fish Camp was modeled after one of the Lheidli T’enneh temporary settlements that would have been set up to harvest salmon from the Fraser River. The original fish camp was located about 2km up the river from the Huble Homestead, at the northern bend of the river. During this time period the Lheidli had a permanent village, originally on land in present day Prince George, and later at Shelley. As food sources became available with the changing seasons, they travelled throughout their territory in order to harvest those resources, living in temporary camps as they fished, hunted, or berry picked. They used canvas tents that could be folded up and transported; on site the tents would be set up with peeled wooden poles.
The Lheidli people were in a period of transition during the early 1900s, as more and more European settlement occurred throughout their territory. Their economic relationships with settlers gave them increased access to manufactured goods, and they were incorporating some European customs and products, such as clothing and tools, into their traditional lifestyle. They began cultivating gardens in their permanent villages to produce potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables., though they still relied heavily on their historic food resources.
The abundance of fish in the rivers of the region meant that fish remained the most productive food source. Traditional methods of fishing including fish weirs were used until 1913, when the weirs were outlawed and Indigenous people in British Columbia were forced to use to nets to harvest fish from the rivers. Though the harvesting method changed, many of the fishing locations and preservation methods remained the same.
Each year when the salmon spawned in late summer and early fall, Lheidli families would set out for their fish camps, where they would work to catch as many salmon as they needed to feed themselves through the approaching winter. Nighttime dipnetting was a common method of fishing on large, fast moving rivers like the Fraser. Standing at the end of platform extending from the riverbank into the water, the fisherman would stand quietly in the dark, listening for the salmon as they swam up river and past the end of the dipstand. When a fish swam into the net, the fisherman would twist the net to trap the salmon and then release it to helpers waiting on the riverbank.
Once the fish were cleaned and the innards returned to the river to ensure the perpetuation of the salmon run, the fish were hung on drying racks to dry in the wind as the first step in the preservation process. The drying racks were generally made out of alder poles that had been stripped of bark and cut to size. The poles were lashed together with babiche, which was rawhide that had been cut into strips. The next step in the preservation process was to smoke the salmon in a smokehouse constructed for the purpose. The smokehouse was made of pine and the roof had vents to allow air circulation. The fish would be suspended from the ceiling and a small, smoldering fire was lit on the floor. This process would both preserve and flavour the fish. The fish could then be stored for use throughout the year.
The Lheidli spent much of the year travelling through and living in different locations in their territory. Where they spent their time depended upon the season. From the Fish Camp, the preserved the fish and all supplies would need to be transported back to the village for winter. The main method of transportation was the canoe. Waterways were the fastest means of transporting people and goods over large areas. The cottonwood dugout canoe was the traditional vessel of the Lheidli T’enneh. The abundance of large cottonwood trees in the area is why this was the most widely used canoe type over other styles such as birch or spruce bark canoes.
The Fish Camp exhibit includes an example of a traditional dugout canoe. It was made by Lheidli Elder and artist Robert Frederick. Mr. Frederick took a little over a month to complete the canoe. It is important to note that the Lheidli, unlike their west coast neighbours, did not embellish their pieces with carvings like similar canoes from the coast. This holds true in other aspects of Dakelh life; most items in the Lheidli culture tend to be less decorated. This is not due to a lack of traditional art forms or skill; it is simply a result of food availability. Life in the interior was harder, and food sources were less plentiful and spread further apart than in coastal regions. This meant that more time was devoted to gathering the necessities of life and left less time for leisure activities such as art.