Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day 56: On Round Lake

Oh, Round Lake isn't round; they just call it that. Out of hope, maybe, or spite. It pocks with points and bulges with bays, and looks rather more like a smashed ant than a round. Its shape must be forgiven because it is politics which mars it most.

Round Lake shares the happy circumstance of most lakes on the Qu'Appelle, with the south side in reserve land and the north an economic free zone. So these lakes grow grand cottages on one shore looking across to wooded hills on the other. The value of these cottages does not depend solely on view but also the water level, so the pleasure craft can be readily launched from lakeside garages.

Thus these lakes are dammed. To dam a lake, though, you need the permission of every flooded one, and only one side has cottages. The Canadian government, in respect of the treaties, must obtain Indian permission to flood the land. Arrangements have apparently been made on all but Round Lake, where the old dam stands open.

I do not know the reasons for this, but the white people I've met have all but accused the natives of extortion. "There were some nasty things that happened in the residential schools," said one, "but they need to understand that these treaties aren't written in stone."

Another told me, "They say it was flooding their pastures, but there's no cows on those pastures!" I certainly hadn't seen any. "It's better for them, too."

I can sympathize with these people. A lakeside cottage is a significant investment, and they hadn't considered the risk that the lake retreat. So what can they do?

Their arguments, however, are very unconvincing to me. Abrogating the treaties breaks the only semblance of legal ownership they have to the land, anyway. It simply says, yes, we will just take the land because you are powerless to stop us. And I do not trust someone who claims to know what is best for the natives; that is how this whole mess started.

In lieu of the Indian side of this disagreement, which is unavailable to me, let me offer my opinion as a self-interested river traveler. The lake was low, but not shockingly so, not enough to make a round lake crooked or vice versa, just enough to expose some nice sand and boulders for me to pull my canoe up on. No dam meant no portage and no risky dam shoot.

I imagine that the more natural ebb and flow of the water creates a healthier ecology as well. I never saw water on the Qu'Appelle so clear as after Round Lake. If I had a spear I could easily have killed a dozen fish a day, just looking down out of my canoe. I could nearly catch them on my paddle.

I guess all the mud and silt empties out into the lake. The clear river is alive with ferns and weeds, an entire world under the water, a world that is inaccessible to those of us just skimming the surface. The green weeds swaying back and forth are like the hairs of sirens, luring hapless river rats to break that surface once and for all.

Day 56 ended: 50*31.737N, 102*20.369W

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