Inside Western Canada’s first wild horse preserve

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      The following is excerpted from The Wild Horses of the Chilcotin: Their History and Future (releasing November 4) by Wayne McCrory, copyright 2023, with permission from Harbour Publishing.

      By Wayne McCrory

      I had spent a long winter glued to my computer screen, analyzing data and finalizing my Brittany Triangle report. After it was carefully reviewed by Xeni Gwet’in Nits’ilin (Chief) Roger William and lawyer Jack Woodward in spring 2002, they invited me to present my recommendations to the Xeni Gwet’in community at their hall in the Nemiah Valley.

      Shaking the cobwebs out of my brain, I realized I was eager to get out into the wilds again. Looking out my office window, I saw that the first green buds had appeared on the birch trees. When I received the Xeni’s invitation, I was relieved to be able to spend some time in the Nemiah Valley and Brittany Triangle with my wife, Lorna. I’d felt some trepidation when I accepted the invitation, because the Xeni people were so knowledgeable, while I was only beginning to learn about wild horses. Since I was recommending that the Brittany Triangle be protected as Western Canada’s first wild-horse preserve, I was nervous; some of the non-Native ranchers in the area hated both wolves and wild horses. I was glad Lorna was coming with me to lend support.

      From my experience in 1987—in association with Friends of Ecological Reserves, the Valhalla Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund Canada, and a number of other conservation organizations—using research to form the underpinnings that helped save the Khutzeymateen Valley as Canada’s first grizzly bear sanctuary, I knew that a lot more baseline research would be necessary in order to build a strong case to make the Brittany Triangle a wild-horse preserve.

      The cattle ranchers and government range department’s misinformation and eradication campaign against wild horses in BC had cemented a century of political momentum that had nearly reached its goal of extirpation of the last Chilcotin wild horses. The thousand or more estimated to be left in the West Chilcotin in 2002 had only survived because of the Tŝilhqot’in’s deep relationship to qiyus, established well before the coming of the white man.

      It was a lovely early spring afternoon as Lorna, I, and Lucy drove into the parking lot of the Nemiah Valley community hall. As we stepped from our vehicle, the sweet scent of cottonwood buds greeted us. Distant vistas showed mountains, including the sacred Xeni Gwet’in guardian, MountTs’ilʔos, which rose to snow-clad peaks shimmering high against the western sky. We could have been in Nepal, in the Himalayas. Strangely, I felt like I was coming to a home place, a feeling that grew as I returned year after year to do more research.

      The parking lot was already packed with a mix of mud- and dust-splattered new and old Ford F150s and GMC 4 × 4s. Some rusty older model pickup trucks sported fenders held together with binder twine. I reminded myself that the motor vehicle had replaced horse-drawn wagons to connect the community to the outside world only after 1973, when the Canadian Army Corps of Engineers completed the 100-kilometre dirt road across the plateau into Nemiah, with a bridge spanning the Dasiqox-Taseko River. Prior to that, the Nemiah people and their wild horses were isolated from the outside world.