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Students Redress History

Learning about past discrimination against Indigenous people.

“I just cannot believe it – how come I never knew?”

When students at Bulkley Valley Christian School (BVCS) in Smithers, B.C. learned about the history of discrimination against Indigenous people in their town, it didn’t take them long to move from shock to action.

Last month, Grade 11 and 12 students at BVCS learned about the book Shared Histories, interviewed author and professor Tyler McCreary over Skype and spoke with several Wet’suwet’en people who had lived in “Indiantown” on the outskirts of Smithers. Smithers was a railroad town built on a swamp that grew to attract more settlers as the farming and lumber industries developed throughout the 20th century. Eventually prejudice and the apparent need to grow Smithers resulted in the residents of Indiantown being pressured to move away. As late as the mid 1960s, some of their houses were even burned to the ground to make way for the expanding town.

This troubling narrative challenged student notions of the town and community they thought they knew so well. Their shock was two-fold. On one level, students could not believe this had actually happened in Smithers, never mind Canada, and so late into the 20th century. On another level, students were shocked that they had never heard about Indiantown before.

“I cannot even fathom how we did not know about Indiantown,” grade 12 student Leona said. 

“I’ve lived my entire life in Smithers,” Lexa said, “and I’m only learning about Indiantown now in grade 12.”

The class was soon brainstorming ways they could “do something” with this new awareness. They decided that a public monument would help others in the community learn about Indiantown, so they started drafting a few designs. After calling Mayor Taylor Bachrach, students soon found themselves in our Town Chamber in front of the Shared Histories committee pitching and defending their proposals for a public Indiantown monument. Several members of this committee were once displaced residents of Indiantown, so their involvement and feedback were especially meaningful for BVCS students. 

“I was honoured to be able to present our idea of a monument to the committee,” Joe, a grade 12 student, said. “I’m happy I can be a part of the reconciliation process.” 

“To play a part in righting the past wrongs that occurred here in our town was a deep privilege for me,” a student named Abbi said. 

As a follow up to these presentations, students wrote formal letters to Smithers Town Council respectfully requesting that as an act of reconciliation, a public monument be established within Smithers dedicated to the people and history of Indiantown. Perhaps by God’s grace, one day there will be a monument dedicated to bringing out into the open what was for too long buried in silence, so that moving forward no one will be able to say, of the troubled relationship between Smithers and Indiantown, “I never knew!” 

  • Jonathan lives in Smithers, B.C., and teaches high school at Bulkley Valley Christian School, on the Gitumd’en house territory of Woos.

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