In pictures: Life in Prophet River

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Prophet RiverImage source, Ed Gold

Photographer Ed Gold has recently returned to Prophet River, his fourth visit since 2009, where he has been documenting the First Nation community of the Dunne-za (Beaver) people. The community is situated in north-eastern British Columbia, Canada, about 50 miles south of Fort Nelson on the Alaskan Highway.

During this visit, Gold has concentrated on recording the experiences of those who live there, mixing portraits, often shot on an iPod touch, with verbatim transcripts of conversations with each person.

"I need to fully document all aspects of what life is currently like in this community and most importantly the memories of the elders and how life used to be here," says Gold. The Dunne-za are said to number about 1,000 now, with perhaps half that number able to speak the traditional Beaver tongue.

Here is a selection of pictures taken by Gold, along with extracts from the text that accompanies them.

Darcy Dwayne Chipesia

Image source, Ed Gold

"I'm worried that Beaver will become extinct. Once you learn to speak the native language, you learn the native culture. It's got to be learnt from the inside, you learn the native way. If we don't teach the culture to the young people, it will be gone forever. It's a language from the land.

"Beaver was my first language. We were born with it.

"If my generation had left Prophet River, it wouldn't be here now. Too many people left because it was too hard. They didn't want to live here, because there was nothing here. There would be nothing here now but we stayed here. Our elders told us to. They said, 'Don't marry a different kind. Marry your own kind. You're a Dunne-za.'

"When my generation dies, it will never be the same. All the old ways will be a thing of the past. It's a pretty neat thing how they made dried meat 10,000 years ago and how they were making skins and that we're still doing it exactly the same way now."

Sandra Jane St Pierre

Image source, Ed Gold

"We used to live in the old reserve, we used to haul our own water. I'd give anything to go back to those days - walk back up with two pails of water. By the time I got back, the pails would be half empty.

"I had six sisters and two brothers. I'd slave for my mom. We'd break ice on the creek just to get water. It was too cold to use the outhouse, so we used the 'slop pail' in the house. We got spoilt when we moved over here with running water and flushable toilets.

"We'd strip the poplars for sap for sugar in the summer, in July. Oh my God, it was like candy to us. We'd dry the poplar out then and use it for firewood in the winter.

"I'd speak mostly Beaver when I was younger, before I was adopted. When I was adopted, I wasn't allowed to speak it.

"Before my dad died in hospital, he told me to take care of myself. There's too many sins on this reserve. He told me to stay away from the people."

Brenda Edna Tsakoza

Image source, Ed Gold

"Growing up on the old reserve was a very tough way of life. You had to do what you had to do to survive. We didn't have money. We had nothing. We had to hunt and go fishing and share what we had.

"I remember my elders hunting and fishing just to survive. They taught us how to trap and set snares for rabbits, for survival, right? They taught us how to survive for the next day. That's all I knew how to do until I went to school and all my tradition seemed to slowly fade away. I forgot my tradition and how the elders showed me how to survive out in the wilderness."

Joseph 'Joe' James Chipesia

Image source, Ed Gold

"Both my parents were Beaver Indian. I'm not sure where I was born, I don't know. I could be born at the old reserve or it was somewhere out in the bush. I've always lived here.

"I used to like hunting, walk down to the river, fishing mostly, make fire, drink tea. They used to call it the Gathering Place in the Indian language. Everybody just get together, that was fishing.

"I had a family once. I lost two kids, and one is living right here with her kid. One of mine died in heart surgery when he was just a boy. Jamie - she died in a car accident. She was young too."

Mary Francoise Bigfoot 'Mckanacha'

Image source, Ed Gold

"I'm as old as the Alaska Highway. All my life I've known my grandfather as Mckanacha, it's our language. Bigfoot is the white man name for my family. My birth certificate said I was born at Fort St John, but the truth is I was born at Fish Lake.

"Mom died when we were not very old. I had one sister and one brother. Dad was with us through our growing up years. I don't remember living at Fish Lake, where my Dad was trapping, that's how they made money in those days. Everybody went out when the trapping season starts.

"I had questions in my mind when I was 10. I heard people saying, 'Those lazy Indians, those drunk Indians,' but that wasn't the case. Trapping is hard physical work, hunting is hard physical work. No lazy man can do that. And they make firewood, they use a hand saw, there was no power saw back then. That's not a lazy man's job.

"It was a very harsh life. People would live in cabins but before then in tepees. I remember Dad built a log cabin, he built it by himself. After school in the summer, we would leave Prophet River and go out into the land and camp and hunt all summer.

"The ways have changed here. The alcohol makes people forget. I love my people dearly, but I'm sad at the same time when I look. The way we are brought up affects us."

Loretta Chipesia

Image source, Ed Gold

"I was born in Prophet River. Usually we were born camping, but I was born in December so it was in an army house. They were left here after the highway was built. There was one big house and that was made into a day school. Before the 50s, we were living in traditional tepees.

"Once we started going to school, we played with other kids. I only started school at seven or eight. Nobody until 1963 spoke English. Everyone spoke Beaver. Then, when the school was built, we weren't allowed to speak Beaver. Once you quit it, you quit it.

"There's hardly anybody to talk Beaver now. They still speak Beaver in Halfway, even the little ones, but not here.

"I was 20 when I had my first child. I've had eight children, nine with my adopted baby but she has gone.

"Lots has changed, people don't get along together, every little thing upset people, they fight. Before, it is love. Old folks from here would hug you, they love you, help each other. Nowadays, you don't see that. It's the money, what else? They give Indians money so they don't need to work. People try to outdo each other buying things.

"The way it's going now, everyone here will end up like white people, I think that's the way it's going. There won't be no more reserve, we will lose our status."

Laurette Martha June Kaiser

Image source, Ed Gold

"Since my parents got divorced in 1993 and my mom had retired, she decided to move back to Prophet River, and I went with her in 2008. I had two daughters and was single, so moved with her.

"She said she wanted to go back to where she was from, but she thought it would be different to the way it was. A lot of things can change over 40 years. It's not how they're supposed to be. When I was little, we'd go to the old reserve, and they'd always have food and be making tea, and the kids would come around to take me out to play.

"A lot of people are talented and have aspirations, people can hunt, do art, draw, talents and skills that are useful. But part of it too is to get out and away from the community. But everything is done for you in the community, so it's hard for people to leave."

Image source, Ed Gold
Image caption,
Northern lights
Image source, Ed Gold
Image caption,
A resident in front of one of the cabins
Image source, Ed Gold
Image caption,
Driving a quad bike