KAMLOOPS — The land around Jacko Lake is sacred territory for the Secwepemc people, who rely on the land to this day for survival.
"This land is one of the first areas in spring that we come to to get our first proteins of fish, our medicine, our plants. All of that is important to us," says Skeetchestn Indian Band Chief Ron Ignace.
Ignace and many other First Nation chiefs in the region came together on Wednesday, welcoming students and other visitors who got a sense of the area and its importance to the Secwepemc people.
WATCH: Full report by Chad Klassen
Ed Jensen from the Tk'emlups Indian Band took a group on a tour of the historic hunting blind complex, where hunters would hide before getting their kill. He says the territory remains a good spot to hunt for meat before winter.
"One thing we've always known as hunters is that animals have things like escape behavior. They have patterns, so we would have tailored the hunting blind complex to those patterns. It's a perfect ambush site. The animals had no choice but to funnel through these areas," says Jensen.
Wednesday's gathering marked a celebration of the land, which the Secwepemc chiefs are hoping can be theirs soon after filing for title rights of the land around Jacko Lake last June.
"We've never ceded or surrendered our ownership and jurisdiction of this land," says Ignace. "We're wondering when the province will recognize and do the right thing by us."
But the B.C. government has made it clear that since the land is on private property, it will fight it.
Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation that won title right in a historic Supreme Court ruling in 2014, says he doesn't buy the province's argument on the grounds of private property.
"When you're talking about private land, people would think you're talking about old ranches where people actually live. But I don't see people living here," says Alphonse.
The ultimate concern is, if the mine goes ahead, all of their food and medicine will go as well.
"It's going to affect a lot of different species," says Jensen. "The animals, birds, fish, insects, all of those things that combine together make a whole. We'll be removing a part of that and it's things we cannot possibly get back."
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