First Nations Fish Camp

First Nations Fish Camp

In 2005 the First Nations fish camp was constructed in partnership with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation to help preserve the history of the Lheidli T’enneh people within the area during the 1900s.

 

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. The original fish camp would have been about 2km up the river from the Huble Homestead. During this time period the Lheidli had a permanent village, first on land in present day Prince George, and later at Shelley. They travelled throughout their territory in order to harvest different foods depending on the season. They used canvas tents that could be folded up and transported; on site the tents would be set up with peeled wooden poles. These tents could be taken to different temporary camps used for fishing, hunting, and berry picking.

The Dakelh were in a period of transition during the 1900s. They were adopting some European customs, such as clothing and tools, while still relying heavily on their traditional food resources and life style. In the permanent villages gardens were cultivated to produce potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables.

 

However, because of the abundance of fish in the rivers of the region, fish remained the most productive food source. Traditional methods of fishing including fish weirs were used until 1913, when the weirs were outlawed and the First Nations 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. 

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 leather that had been cut into strips. The next step in the preservation process was to smoke the salmon. A smokehouse would be 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 to and from 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 local Lheidli 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.

Special Thanks to:
A drying rack for salmon.