Saturday, November 20, 2021

Sumas Prairie was a diasaster waiting to happen

The devastating floods in British Columbia have unstandably received a lot of media attention. The word "unprecedented" has been thrown around with gay abandon, just as it has so many times in these "unprecedented" times of late. 

Much of the attention has - also understandably - been focused on farmers whose livelihoods are at stake, many of whom are blaming the province for being ill-prepared (although quite how they should have foreseen this second "unprecedented" and catastrophic event within a few months, I am not sure). Of course no-one is willing to take any responsibility themselves for choosing to farm on a recognized flood plain...

I was particularly nonplussed by the complaining farmers of the so-called Sumas Prairie region in the Fraser Valley, which has been particularly badly hit. What is now referred to as Sumas Prairie was called Sumas Lake a hundred years ago. It was a productive lake, full of salon, trout, sturgeon, crayfish and freshwater mussels, and it was the mainstay of the local indigenous Semá:th people. In the 1920s, though, settlers drained the lake, moved the First Nations people out to a reservation, and installed about 3,000 white farmers, the descendants of whom are still there today.

It was probably only a matter of time before the lake reasserted itself, a proverbial disaster waiting to happen. Either way, it's hard to be too sympathetic to white settlers who chose to farm on a flood plain, on land forcibly taken from its traditional  Indigenous stewards.

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