ROSE PRAIRIE, B.C. – Pederson’s Crossing—the northernmost road across the Beatton River that leads from Rose Prairie to Doig First Nation—is in rough shape after landslides this spring.
With little action taken by the province to fix the road and the hill it is sliding down, Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator of the Doig River First Nation, Owen Bloor, is determined to see the road renovated and keep his community connected to the rest of the region before the road that leads to it falls off the map.
The state of the road leading across the river speaks to a familiar and frustrating narrative. Although action and aid are promised to First Nations practical solutions—like ensuring the road they rely on functions—are rare.
The road has been a rough trail with numerous issues since it was built, according to Bloor, but the slow-moving slides that began after heavy rainfall on the weekend have worsened the issue.
Standing at the top of the gravel trail before it drops away between a canyon and a crumbling hillside, Bloor explained that the road was built poorly and patched constantly for the 40 years he has spent driving it.
“There have been numerous patch jobs but never any total reconstruction of the road. This is an ongoing issue,” he said. “But the condition of the roads can no longer allow for these temporary fixes.”
The Milligan Creek Road turns right off the Rose Prairie road and quickly transforms from pavement to pale, dry gravel. It narrows and winds down the side of the canyon towards the Beatton River. Large chunks of the road are missing after sliding down the hill. Only single-lane traffic is possible in many of the slide-affected areas. Frequent traffic has worn tracks into the road that drivers use in lieu of painted lines to stay within their lanes.
“It needs, in our opinion, and this is from the community and myself, a total revamp and rebuild.”
The road leads to the Doig River First Nation, a member of Treaty 8 First Nations, and serves as their primary connection to the rest of the region, including the city of Fort St. John.
“It is the best access,” Bloor says. “We do have another access through Siphon Creek, but it’s considerably longer.” The other crossing, on the Cecil Lake road, is in considerably better shape (it is mostly paved and regularly maintained).
Despite the importance of the road to the First Nation it serves, attempts to gain the attention and aid of the province have been largely ignored.
Initial discussions with emergency management and the province after the slides began to affect the road while the rain was still falling, went poorly, Bloor said. “They pretty much blew us off.”
“They literally told us, without having been out here, that the road was fine,” he said.
Though the crumbling gravel road is an issue to the community today, it has been a problem that threatens isolation with every thunderstorm for decades. The lack of a solution from the province, which is responsible for maintaining highways and rural roads, is telling for the Doig River First Nation, Bloor says.
“They feel like they’re being treated like second-class citizens,” he explains. “And they have had that experience.”
The echoes of that long history of abysmal treatment and outright abuse at the hands of provincial and federal governments live along the Milligan Creek road.
The road crosses the Beatton River before it widens downstream on a short, level bridge dwarfed by the crumbling hills surrounding it. Bloor says that a settlement slowly accumulated at the bridge, called Pederson’s Crossing, around the Indian Day School run on its banks.
Indian Day Schools ran for over a century in Canada, from the 1860s to the 1990s. Unlike residential schools, the day schools rarely if ever removed children directly from the care of their parents and communities. Like residential schools across the country, however, its purpose was to assimilate Indigenous children and erase their language and culture.
Bloor understands that his community is small and that, as the government, “you spend your money where your population is.” But the ability for a community to access resources and connect to the wider region is vital and it is an ability that other communities do not face with such urgency and such little response. “But we do exist. We are people and we do deserve to be treated as such.”