The Issue of Whose Land We’re On

It’s time to stop pretending there’s no Indigenous history in Revelstoke

>>Michelle Cole

Little public art identifies the First People of the area and their contribution to our modern way of life—other than at the top of Mount Revelstoke, which is buried by snow most of the year.

On the surface, Revelstoke seems to be an inclusive society. Visitors from around the world are welcome here, and restaurants of an increasing diversity of ethnicities thrive. Groups of good-hearted volunteers spring up to support newcomers fleeing war-torn home countries.

But, beneath the surface, there is a glaring lack of cultural representation of the area’s most foundational population: Indigenous People. 

HIDDEN ROOTS

Few place names allude to the original inhabitants of this territory. No street signs adorn corners featuring a dialect of Interior Salish. Little public art identifies the First People of the area and their contribution to our modern way of life—other than artwork at the top of Mount Revelstoke, which is buried by snow most of the year. 

If we consider ourselves inclusive of the Indigenous population, then it’s only by default, as there’s no significant visible heritage in Revelstoke to oppose. 

If we consider ourselves inclusive of the Indigenous population then it’s only by default as there’s no significant visible heritage in Revelstoke to oppose.

Deer, Editor …

WHO YOU CALLING EXTINCT?

Revelstoke is located on the traditional and unceded territory of four nations native to the area: Sinixt, Secwepemc, Ktunaxa, and Syilx. 

In 1956, the Sinixt people were declared extinct by the federal government for the purposes of the Indian Act. The Columbia River Treaty was still in draft form, so the pretext to declaring Sinixt extinct was purely administrative (that verdict, incidentally, is now up for discussion in the Supreme Court of Canada). Our privileged position of living in Revelstoke comes at a tragic historical cost. 

HISTORY 101 

Originally, Sinixt gathered at what we now call Big Eddy. They were not nomadic, but seasonal. They hunted or fished in one area and would not return for periods of time. As early as the 1830s, White settlers in their explorations of the New World would encounter Sinixt in the area. However, if they didn’t cross paths, they simply assumed the land was uninhabited. 

In that way, not much has changed. We don’t see signs of Indigenous people in the social climate of today; therefore we assume they do not exist.

BACK TO SCHOOL

If you want to learn about Indigenous history in Revelstoke, ask a student. The classroom is one of the few places this history lives, and for good reason. Any given year, 10-15 per cent of School District 19’s population identifies as Indigenous – from First Nations to Metis and Inuit. They expect it in their curriculum. Their families live here, yet we live as if we are separate or absolved from the dialogue of truth and reconciliation happening in the rest of Canada. 

In 2011, Marilyn James of the Sinixt Nation gave an impassioned speech at Columbia Park School for an Educational Enhancement Agreement signing ceremony. Her call to action was simple: “Stop pretending.” 

Education in schools is ongoing, but it is time that knowledge spread throughout the community. Let’s create that community; one where families with Indigenous ancestry self-identify proudly in the community without fear of backlash or veiled hostility. One that goes beyond bannock and beading, and embraces traditional cultures and knowledge in public. One where City Council acknowledges we exist on traditional territory. Let’s familiarize ourselves with the 94 points of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It’s time for decolonization, multi-generational healing, and reconciliation. It’s time to acknowledge whose land we’re on.

Michelle Cole is a writer and a product of assimilation whose Nipissing, Haudenosaunee, and Wendat grandmothers, welcomed newcomers to Turtle Island. Her family has lived in Sinixt territory for 40 years. She is a member and sits on the board of the Aboriginal Friendship Society of Revelstoke, whose purpose is to raise public awareness, increase knowledge of and support for Aboriginal people, heritage and culture within our community, aboriginalrevelstoke.ca