An incredible opportunity awaits us
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Thursday evening, Feb. 25 was a good night for reconciliation at the College of the Rockies (COTR).
More than 100 people had gathered in the grand entrance foyer of the college underneath the giant, curved, wooden beams to hear former St. Mary’s Band Chief and BC Treaty Commissioner Sophie Pierre speak on reconciliation between the Ktunaxa people and we who came to dominate the land the Ktunaxa lived on for more than 10,000 years.
Given the topic of Pierre’s address – reconciliation – it wouldn’t have been surprising if the former chief and treaty commissioner had used the occasion to lament the sad history of the Ktunaxa people’s subjugation by the interlopers who arrived little more than 100 years ago and quickly displaced the first peoples with their industry, technology and sheer numbers.
Pierre, a residential school survivor, acknowledged those were difficult times, but she didn’t dwell on that painful history. Instead she challenged the crowd to look to the future and think about what they could do to build a new era of harmony and progress with the Ktunaxa as full participants instead of being marginalized as they’d been in the past.
She pointed out that a new era had already begun with the conversion of the formerly dreaded residential school, which she had attended for nine years, to a modern, four-seasons resort with a hotel, golf course and casino. This was a difficult and painful accomplishment because the Ktunaxa people feared the imposing, brick, structure where they were educated, but at the cruel price of having their language and culture taken away from them.
They even feared to enter the building which stood empty for 20 years after it closed in 1970 and was left to its ghosts and bad memories. But this all changed when Elder Mary Paul said at a meeting the only way to recover all that had been lost in the hated building was “go back and get it,” said Pierre. And although it took several more years of hardship and financial difficulties, this is exactly what the Ktunaxa did with the help of four other bands in their traditional territory and a financial partnership with the Sampson Cree from Alberta and the Mnjikaning First Nation from Ontario.
Today the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino is a $40 million destination resort and source of pride for the Ktunaxa nation and a major attraction for the entire region. Right next to it stands the ?aq’amnik Elementary School where Ktunaxa culture and values are proudly taught as well as the Ktunaxa language, a cultural language isolate unique in the world. Times have improved for the Ktunaxa people but there’s lots of room for improvement yet, said Pierre.
This was the challenge Pierre made to the crowd and it sparked a lively discussion among the people there which were a diverse mix of local residents including many non-Ktunaxa. I was also there out of general interest and made a modest proposal myself in response to Sophie’s challenge, which she eagerly endorsed. Given this event took place in a college located on Ktunaxa traditional territory with Ktunaxa and non-Ktunaxa students alike, I asked what better location could you get for a degree-granting program in archaeology?
I admit I never really thought of this before, but listening to Sophie’s address, it just popped into my head and the more I thought about it the more it made sense. COTR is located adjacent to one of the richest fossilized areas in the world, a fact known to a relative few in the region, but one that’s gathering increasing attention outside our area. And along with all those ammonites and trilobites below the surface is 10,000 years of Ktunaxa history.
What better place could there be for a new archaeology teaching program in B.C.?
It’s a natural. So why don’t we link hands with the Ktunaxa and just do it?
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist with an amateur – extremely amateur – interest in archeology.