A shared history project done by Smithereen Dr Tyler McCreary between the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the early settlers of Smithers is wrapping up soon.
The information collected through oral interviews and archival research will look back over 100 years of the influence settlers had and their relationship with first nations.
The information will be released in a report in the fall, with plans for a history book written in the coming years.
“When we put together the story we want to understand and centrally feature the contributions of first nations to building this community,” says McCreary.
He interviewed 30 people since late April with a small crew of students from the University of BC. They’re working for the next few weeks on the final leg of data collection. With just a small window into what conclusions will be drawn from the extensive research, McCreary says some of it delves into an ugly past.
“The histories of the Indian Act and the way the indigenous people’s of Canada have been regulated.”
He relates to some of the early BC land acts that would allow early settlers to pre-empt land out of the hands of First Nations on arrival.
“There’s definitely difficulties in the past, but it’s not such a simple thing – that there’s only one side to the story, or it’s only one of violence and oppression. There were great connections that people would have and fond memories.”
The project looks back into the development of Smithers from what McCreary describes as a ‘camp on a swamp’ to a town with developed infrastructure.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach says the joint research project between the town and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en was inspired by a need to preserve a fading history.
“Every year we lose more and more of the elders and seniors in the community. And there’s lots of stories about what life was like back then that are being lost,” says Bachrach.”We will put together a telling of the history of that time. Specifically between the wet’suwet’en and the settlers of that time.”
Part of the project is to strengthen relations with First Nations and the town creating a shared understanding of the past.
“I think the project is based on the premise that it’s hard to move forward together unless we have a shared understanding of our past.”
A committee made up of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and council will decide on how the information is presented publicly.