There’s far more to Terrace’s history than white men

Let's shift our focus towards the First Nations people who have been in our region since time immemorial, writes local museum curator

By Kelsey Wiebe

As we struggle to digest and honour the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, let’s shift our historical focus away from the white men we hold up as pioneers and think about the First Nations people who have been in our region since time immemorial. One of the reasons we have remained silent about residential school is because we have systematically marginalized aboriginal people and excluded them from our history.

Look at Terrace. Our largest community festival is Riverboat Days, a celebration of the sternwheelers that brought early European settlers to the region. We don’t talk about how these settlers were able to pre-empt land in the region because traditional seasonal rounds to harvest fish and berries, as opposed to year-round settlement, were not recognized by the government, and so the entire region was considered vacant and in need of settlement.

We don’t remember that settlement took place because First Nations communities had been decimated by introduced diseases, including smallpox, which shrank their membership and shook their cultural foundations.

We don’t think about how the First Nations people who survived were forced into tiny reservations chosen by the federal government, allowing the rest of the land to be considered ‘open’ for pre-emption.

Instead of discussing these complex, difficult, critical subjects, our community celebrates George Little, the white man who pre-empted the land that became the core of Terrace. Sure, Little was an enterprising businessman who loomed large in the narrative of Terrace history, but does he deserve the sole weight of Terrace historical attention?

Our town remembers Little through the preservation and central placement of his house (to the tune of over a million dollars in relocation and upkeep costs), through the naming of streets and parks, through a memorial at the crest of the Sportsplex hill, and through the constant mention of him in our local history narrative.

So, let’s disrupt this narrative. Let’s remember Emma and Charles Nelson, Tsimshian people of the robin, who lived in Kitsumkalum. Emma Nelson (née Starr) held a high name in the Gisbutwada (killer whale) clan, and was the matriarch of the important House of Lagaax. Her husband, Charles Nelson, who held the name Xpilaxha, was a leader of the Ganhada (raven) clan.

The Nelsons assisted early European settlers through a general store ran out of Kitsumkalum. In addition to providing food, hospitality, and local knowledge, the Nelsons invested in Little’s sawmill—apparently without recompense.

Let’s remember Eliza Thornhill, née Wright, a high-ranking Gitselasu woman whose trapline edged what is now known as Sockeye Creek. In a fascinating demonstration of agency, Eliza claimed the land she would have traditionally been entitled to use between the two bridges through her English husband Tom Thornhill.

As a white male, Tom was the kind of settler the government was looking for when they opened the area up for pre-emption.

Eliza hunted, fished, and trapped on the land that became Thornhill. Tom grew a large vegetable and flower garden, selling produce to the sternwheelers that stopped at Thornhill Landing to pick up cordwood. Tom’s health was weak, and so Eliza, who had local knowledge anyway, took on the more traditionally masculine role in a pioneer couple.

One of the few places in the region named after an aboriginal woman – Eliza Creek – was officially renamed the relatively generic ‘Sockeye Creek’ by 1930. In 1978, pioneer historian Floyd Frank lamented the renaming of the creek, stating that ‘there’s only a few left that know these things.’ Without people to remember her, he implied, Eliza’s story would fade. When we fail to recognize – and celebrate – the depth and resilience of First Nations history in the Terrace region, we do ourselves a disservice. We also marginalize those stories, ensuring that First Nations people’s history is excluded from our community history.

This allows us to disengage from the horror of residential schools, and to see First Nations people as outside of our community, as something other than us.

This is what has led us to the present, where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was necessary to bring to light the injustices that have been consistently meted against aboriginal people in Canada.

Kelsey Wiebe is the curator of the Heritage Park Museum.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Group rescued unharmed after attempting to tube Lakelse River

Terrace Search and Rescue brought in helicopter to conduct search

Police investigate July 2 homicide in Houston

Man succumbed to injuries at Pearson Road residence

Terrace couple awarded by Governor General for volunteer work

Ron and Mavis Ramsey recognized for founding society that covers medical expenses

Skeena Sawmills in Terrace inks fibre deals with Kitselas Forestry and Kalum Ventures

Sawmill set to purchase around 45,000 cubic metres of fibre per year

Skeena Sawmills in Terrace reach labour agreement with local United Steelworkers union

The four and a half year long deal was ratified on May 19, 2020 and is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Most Read