Approximately 140 km north of Prince George, just off of Highway 97 on Carp Lake Road, is the McLeod Lake Indian Band. Close to 100 people, both Band members and non-Band members call this place home and the community features a Band hall with a gymnasium, a Natural Resource Centre, Community Daycare, and a gas bar with a convenience store, commercial kitchen, and café.
The McLeod Lake Tse’khene are traditionally a nomadic people who have inhabited the basins of the Parsnip and Finlay Rivers and the Peace River valley for thousands of years, hunting and gathering, following the seasons. After the Northwest Company established a trading post at McLeod Lake in 1805, the Tse’khene people established trap lines and sold furs at the trading post. Their traditional pattern of life became securing game in the fall, trapping in the winter and spring, and picking berries and hunting birds and fish in the summer.
This traditional lifestyle changed dramatically in the 1960s, when the provincial railway and John Hart Highway were built, opening up their land to non-indigenous settlement and economic development. In 1969, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam created a 1,683 square km lake, flooding many of the traditional hunting and trapping areas of the McLeod Lake Tse’khene.
With their traditional livelihood gone, in just a few years the Tse’khene people were transformed from a self-sufficient hunting and gathering society into an impoverished and despondent society, while nearby municipalities like Prince George and Mackenzie were thriving from the growing forest industry.
In the late 1970s, the Band decided this situation could not continue. After several attempts to gain contracts from forest companies, they founded Duz Cho Logging, a company that reflected the determination and resilience of the Tse’khene people. Its success would finance a journey to economic independence for the McLeod Lake Indian Band that started with them adhering to Treaty No. 8 in the year 2000. The Treaty provided them with $38 million, 20,000 ha of Indian Reserve Lands, and a recognized traditional territory of 108,000 square km.
While the McLeod Lake Indian Band continues to build on its forestry operations today, diversifying its economic activities into other industry sectors has been a priority for more than a decade as evidenced by Duz Cho Construction, Summit Pipeline Services (2004-2012), and Duz Cho Forest Products.
The Tse’khene Community Development Corporation, wholly owned by McLeod Lake Indian Band, has constructed a gas bar and convenience store on IR No. 1 in McLeod Lake. Tse’khene Food & Fuel Ltd. also houses a commercial kitchen, community café, and four bed and breakfast units above the store and café. There are also two one-bedroom apartments managed by Tse’khene Community Development Corporation.
The McLeod Lake Tse’khene are now ready to diversity their economy and get involved in tourism. Members provide expertise in wilderness activities, story-telling, hunting and trapping, and preparing traditional foods. The Band is currently working on upgrading a portion of the “Grease Trail” that runs through their community. This trail was traditionally used to connect communities across the west, to the coast where goods were traded along the way.
The McLeod Lake Indian Band and its Band-owned business are dramatic examples of the potential and the ability of Indigenous peoples to succeed in business. Their success has restored the Band’s independence, self-reliance, pride and its belief in a bright future. Along the way, their actions have been shaped by the Band’s guiding principle, “Making sure the footprints we leave behind are the ones our children will be proud to walk in.”
Much of the information in this article was taken from the McLeod Lake Indian Band Community Profile, and was approved for publishing by the Band Administrator.