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Learning more about Barkerville

Our next stop on the journey through BC was the historic town of Barkerville. I have to say my hopes were not high that I would enjoy this location. I was anticipating that the settlers’ stories would be the dominant story yet again. I am happy to report that I was mistaken and that there were Indigenous stories of this place. With the help of Sunrise when the salmon come, she is a Secwepemc woman that tells the story of her Great Grandmother Lucy Sellars. She was also so informative about the people of this land. What I enjoyed the most about her was her optimism about all of the stories that are told in this location. The stories were from the settlers, the Chinese, the black and the Indigenous peoples. She made a point of letting us know that we have to hear all of the stories of this place to understand how we got to today. All the good and bad parts of our history make up the story of all of us.

In what follows is what I took away from her teachings. Barkerville’s location is on the territory of the Dakelh and the Secwepemc peoples. They used this land for summer hunting and gathering of food and medicines. When winter came, they would then move to their winter village, located down in the valley at a place known today as Bowron Lake. We were told that when settlers came to make this place a permanent settlement, the Indigenous people did not understand why they would want to stay year-round in this location because of the harsh winter weather conditions. That advice did not stop the settlers from moving in, they wanted to gather as much gold as they could find. The settler worldview was not something that the Indigenous people understood. The settlers with their hungry eyes, seeing what they could extract and profit from this place. This has never been the worldview of Indigenous people. I have always been taught that when we go to the land and harvest cedar bark and medicines, that we are to never take more than what we need. It is our responsibility to make sure that we take care of the land, so that in return the land will take care of us. The hungry eyes of settlers through the gold rush period was not something that was understood in Indigenous communities. Gold was not a valuable rock for the Indigenous people. It was heavy to carry and it was too soft to make tools with. It had little value. Gold flakes were the only thing used. It was found in river beds, for medicinal purposes when mixed with other medicines, it helped with arthritics. Sunrise when the salmon come, told us that the gold rush settlers would have never been able to survive this place if it hadn’t been for the Indigenous peoples help and support with their knowledge of the land and how to survive this place. Which makes me wonder why they settlers wanted to decimate the communities with the small pox disease? It is said in communities that the settlers would give small pox infested blankets to the Indigenous communities to wipe out the people of the land. In Barkerville before contact there were over 2000 Indigenous people living here. After the small pox endemic, there was only 2 people left. This conversation always returns to the dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ land. All things Indigenous people have had to endure and still endure to this day is always tied back to the dispossession of their land. It has always been about the land and still is about the land.

The Dakelh and the Secwepemc peoples have been living on this land for thousands of years. Sunrise when the salmon come, showed us some of the artifacts that had been found in the area that tells the story of this place before settlers. The site was found at Bowron lake, it is now at the bottom of the lake because of a massive earthquake in the 1960’s in Alaska that shifted the land here. The artifacts that we saw were two arrow heads made out of basalt rock. This rock was worth more than gold to the Indigenous people. It was lightweight which made it easy to carry and you could carve it into arrow heads to use for hunting. The rock was also traded up and down the coast in exchange for ooligan grease (fish grease used for so much in Indigenous communities). One of the arrow heads was 5000 years old and the other one was 8000 years old. Holding these items and knowing that our ancestors before us left behind stories for us to carry forward was a huge honour for me. This affirms that the Indigenous people have been living here since time out of mind. The story that Sunrise when the salmon come, told us about the arrow heads was that the smaller arrow head from 5000 years ago, told us that the animals hunted during this time were smaller. The larger arrowhead from 8000 years ago, showed us that the animals during that time period were much bigger so the arrow head needed to be larger to kill them. Gold and basalt remind us of the differing world views of the Indigenous people and settlers. Settlers with their hungry eyes and only seeing what they could extract and sell for profit with the gold from the land. Where Indigenous people used the rocks so that they could feed their families and communities. They didn’t collect the rocks, they didn’t hoard the rocks, they used the rocks to feed their families and traded it to other families so they could eat as well. This is what I see as the core difference between their differing worldviews. Indigenous people using the rocks for survival and the Settlers using rocks for display, collection, and proof of wealth.

The Indigenous worldview is always about the care of the land and the generations to come. In the summer season in the area around Barkerville, they would build shelters out of willow tree branches. They would find a circle of willow trees, then gather and weave their branches together to create a rainproof roof for their summer shelters. They would then hunt and gather berries and medicines for the winter seasons. Once they were done for the season, they would cut the branches apart and leave the place like they had found it. There would be no trace in the settlers’ eyes of people living on the land. It was purposeful, it was left that way intentionally. It was culturally taking care of the land. They did not cut down the trees, they did not disturb the land, they borrowed it and returned it as they found it. Which is a completely different perspective than the settlers. Where settlers cut down the trees, plowed the land and made shelters and houses that took away from the land with nothing given back in return. You can still see remnants of settlers all over this area in Barkerville, cans, tools and machinery just left to decay in the woods. Again, this speaks to the differing worldviews. When we think with our relatives (land, trees, and more than humans) in mind and how we affect them, then we treat them with a greater amount of care. This allows for this place to still be here for the next generations to take care of. If we use all the resources that we find and decimate the land, then there will be nothing left for the coming generations because it was all selfishly used at one time. There are so many lessons we can learn from Barkerville and the relationships to the land.

The hopes for takeaways from this blog post is to see how differing worldviews shape people. Each worldview comes with an understanding of how to be in this world. Connecting it to your classrooms, school communities, and larger communities, how can you support hearing the differing worldviews of all those who surround you, as an educator or school leader? How do these worldviews shape the world around you? And how will you be open to hearing the differing worldviews? I always encourage people to stop, pause, and listen. That is the best way to learn from others. Take care and check in again next Sunday from more thoughts from the road.

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