I put a fair amount of work into this column. I wrestled with using the words “racism” and “prejudice” but I don’t feel I’m adequately suited to make such a judgment. I can at least go as far as “ignorant,” however.
A small note: I essentially mention anonymous sources in this column in two instances. I have no way of proving to you that they’re real but I can tell you that I did, without any shadow of a doubt, get these calls and these were their content to the best of my recollection.
by Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine
March 24, 2011
One of the greatest facets of living in the Sea to Sky corridor has been getting to know its First Nations.
The Squamish and the Lil’wat have been caretakers of the land since time immemorial, long before we started using it as our playground. The Whistler area was once hunting ground for bears, Signal Hill once a bulwark against invasion by the Tsilhqot’in, Meager Creek Hot Springs once a training ground for guerrilla warfare.
The nations relate to their land in a manner profoundly different from that enjoyed by colonists. They feel a deep connection with trees, plants and animals. They honour the spirits of elders as though they still walk among them.
There’s a wealth of fascinating history and knowledge in this region. So it’s surprising to me that attitudes prevail here that betray a deep contempt for the people who tended this land before us.
In June of 2008 I covered the opening of the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre. It was an incredible event for both peoples to have a building manifest their stewardship of the land between Kitsilano and Lillooet. Not everyone from either Nation was entirely supportive of the centre when it was proposed, but few could deny the significance of its realization.
The very day of a jubilant opening, I got back to the office and took a call from a woman who refused to give me her name. She said she “heard” that the centre would become a casino, and that the matter should be investigated. I asked her where she heard that. She wouldn’t say. I asked her whether she had any concrete evidence to support that. She said no, and I hung up.
In November of that same year, I got another mysterious call, this time from a man named “Walter.” He told me that horses were roaming the highway near Mount Currie… a reasonable safety concern on its own. But then he said, “You know, the Indians, they have all this money.” It was only because he started crying that I stayed on the phone.
Another example that sticks out is coverage of Mount Currie before and during the Olympics. Foreign media came to town and filled up space with flowery, fluid, depressing descriptions of poverty and squalor. Ruins, they say, are a journalist’s pornography.
Now these aren’t attitudes that are characteristic of everyone in the corridor. But they’re nevertheless ignorant ones that permeate the minds of many up here. I overhear it enough in small talk and over beers at the bar to know it’s prevalent.
I was offended by the examples above for the following reasons. For brevity’s sake, I’ll list them one by one.
1) The Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre… and “Casino”
This is a persistent and unsubstantiated rumour I’ve heard around Whistler since I moved here. The only evidence I have heard to support it is the fact that several electrical outlets have been installed around the building. Otherwise the logic pattern goes something like this: A) aboriginals have opened a cultural centre; B) some aboriginals open casinos to generate revenue; C) therefore, they must be planning a casino at their cultural centre. There very well might be an intention on someone’s part to turn portions of the centre into a casino. There merely isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest that’s the case.
2) “They have all this money”
“Walter” must have thought that the Mount Currie Band gets endless wads of government money that it can spend on anything it wants. In actuality, government transfers end up paying for essentials like sewer, water and new housing for members. The money is by no means a bottomless trough that can be expended on anything.
3) “Poverty and squalor”
Not by any means a tendency that comes out of the corridor alone, news stories focusing on Mount Currie around the Olympics zeroed in on aspects like poverty, unemployment and addiction. In a way that’s understandable. To a writer who lives in a lush condo or ski chalet, Mount Currie might not seem the most luxurious place. But that doesn’t mean the community should be painted with epithets like, “flimsy shacks and trailers” and “despair in the Olympic shadow.” These are empty descriptors that spare a journalist the trouble of learning and knowing a community.
Again, these aren’t features that are common to everyone I’ve met. The Village of Pemberton has gone to a great deal of effort through Winds of Change to build a relationship with its neighbours in Mount Currie. They discuss common issues and even hold joint council meetings that commit them to actions that will benefit both communities.
Opinions vary on the initiative’s success, but few can easily dismiss the efforts that leaders in both communities have gone to.
In sum, there’s a deep gulf between truth and ignorance. An unwillingness to close that gap suggests at least some measure of contempt on the part of people who refuse to challenge their assumptions.
In Sea to Sky and elsewhere, we find a proliferation of cases where people are simply uninterested in learning more than they think they know.