by Lucas and Leona
Lucas: Last month, as the 2019 Provincial Fair was just getting under way, a project that had been progressing for months was also coming to fruition.
Back in March, Jennifer Iredale (a board member with the BCHFS) approached me with a project idea: “Taking Reconcili-Action,” she called it. If we interviewed Indigenous elders in the Saanich area and then uploaded those videos on the BCHFS website as inspiration for other students around the province to approach their local Indigenous elders, we could empower young people to create connections in their community and start an open dialogue. Reconciliation is a collaborative process, after all, and we should all play an active role in making our communities more inclusive and recognizing stories of the past.
I was on board right away, and we were able to set up interviews with STOLȻEȽ (John Elliott), a language teacher and elder of the Tsartlip First Nation; TEMOSEN (Charles Elliott), a master carver; Chris Paul, a Tsartlip artist; and Pena Elliott, a Tsartlip member and student. Before the interviews, Leona, Kevin, and I, all alumni council members, had done extensive research about each interviewee as well as proper protocol and oral history tips.
On Tuesday, July 2, Jennifer Iredale and I drove out to interview John, Charles, and Chris. Our talks were originally planned to last around half-an-hour each, but by the time we finished our last interview, we had spent more than five hours speaking to them! Our conversations ranged from their work and current projects to more broad topics like the importance of educating youth about Indigenous culture in schools. They were all incredibly thoughtful and provided me with a lot to think about; I certainly left with more questions than answers.
Leona: A few of the alumni had the privilege of interviewing Pená; a representative for the Saanich peoples. We asked him several questions and documented everything on film. It was enlightening to discover a whole different perspective on controversial topics such as the school curriculum, representation in the modern world, Indigenous reconciliation, and the concept of being truly Canadian. Pená taught us a lot in regards to an Indigenous viewpoint on normal everyday scenarios. Some of his teachings should be applied to huge environmental factors that we face today. One point he made was that the Indigenous peoples only took the number of resources they needed to survive. They never exploited any resources and sought to conserve important necessities like food, for example, salmon.
Pená is a really easy person to talk to, and he answered a lot of our questions, one of which was: what do you think teachers can do to apply Indigenous teachings and incorporate that into the school curriculum? His answer was that he believes all teachers should first be well educated on the correct way and words to refer to Indigenous peoples. In addition to that, teachers should be educated on Indigenous traditions and truths, therefore they can then convey these teachings to their students in a creative manner. In doing this project, BC Heritage Fairs was hoping to bring light to First Peoples and their importance in our society; to give the Saanich people, who aren’t recognized enough, the opportunity to be heard. BC Heritage Fairs Society believes that this recorded interview can hopefully provide teachers and influential leaders with the inspiration they need to start incorporating the recognition of Indigenous peoples in their everyday lives. We hope that by doing this, we strengthen reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Lucas: A big thank-you is in order to Laura Saretsky, Paul Gravett, and others from Heritage BC, whose extremely generous grant from the 2019 Heritage Legacy Fund made this project possible. Thank you as well to Jennifer, Kevin, Leona, Rachel, Evan, and others whose support has been and continues to be invaluable. Stay tuned for more updates as the finished product develops.