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Rethinking The Way History Is Told

By Mackenzie Griffin

He was informed that the half-acre of land must be transferred to the Museum Society, which had been formed in March 1978 and so he sold the land for the required nominal sum of one dollar. Officiated by Premier Bill Bennett, the Museum finally had an opening ceremony in July 1982. On its opening day Clare pointed out the purpose of the Museum, which was to provide a heritage repository for artifacts of Westbank’s early days; a facility for special interest groups, such as arts and crafts persons; a community cultural center for the display of trade and art shows; for local collections of school history projects, and to generate community programs of historical and cultural worth.

In August of 2017 La Tanya Autry and Mike Murawski started the movement Museums Are Not Neutral to challenge the way history is told in museums today. The movement works to dismantle systems of oppression, racism, injustice, and colonialism by rejecting the status quo and centering marginalized histories, stories, voices, and perspectives. You see, for hundreds of years and in fact still today, museums tend to focus on the dominant narratives in society. They tend to tell stories of white struggle and prosperity, of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps.

An Article from the Westside Weekly Newsletter in August of 2013 has the headline "Pioneers tell Westbank history best" and goes on to talk about the five most prominent White Settler families in Westbank. It tells the story of the kinds of people who wrote the so-called "real history of Westbank". This is not to say that these families did not work hard establishing orchards, or streamlining packinghouses and lumber mills, but it does ignore the stories of the individuals who lived on the land before 1811, and who had their own stories of innovation, contention, and success. The very idea that pioneers tell history best, excludes the stories of countless other people, such as the Syilx/Okanagan peoples and the Japanese and Chinese immigrants who lived here just as long or longer.

So let's take a minute and reflect on the two statements listed above: museums are not boring and museums are not neutral. Museums are not boring because there is a rich history and life to be shared in the way stories are told. Stories teach us about what it means to overcome pain and hardship. It helps us to reflect on the past in order to better move forward. Museums are places of learning and growth and without history, we lose valuable lessons that our ancestors have to teach us. The idea that museums are not neutral is important because when we assume that the stories we tell are the only stories to be told, we silence the voices of people who matter. Historically, the victors are the ones who tell the stories. They are the ones who tell the stories in the way they want them to be told. It is for this reason that museums are not neutral. You cannot tell a story in which you have no stakes in the matter. Put another way, you cannot tell a story without implicit bias.

So what does this mean for Westbank and the museum itself? How can we share history in a way that accurately reflects the lives of all of the people living in Westbank? Moreover, what is a museum's role if it cannot be neutral? Let's take a look at another story. It's the one about the founding of Powers Flat. It starts with a man by the name of William Powers who arrived in Vernon at the age of 19 in 1885. He settled in what is now known as Westbank to farm Powers Flat. Win Shilvock, along with a variety of other writers on the topic, states that "the Indians, who probably rightly claimed the land as theirs, so harassed them that in 1890 the preemptions were abandoned." There's a lot to unpack here, but perhaps the most important is to state the obvious. Here, both parties are included in the story. The settlers wanted to farm Powers Flat and the "Indians", or First Nations peoples, did not want them to.

These are facts, but the way in which the story is told tells a very different tale. "The Indians" is an outdated terminology that was used to refer to the First Peoples of North America, because explorers thought they had arrived in India. It is written into our policies and in our newspapers and is commonly used until...well... it hasn't completely gone away. If you come across this word, please don't use it. Instead, I recommend asking how someone would like to be preferred. Are they Cree, Syilx, or Musqueam? What is the specific group of people you are referring to? If you don't know and you cannot ask, then, the term Indigenous is broadly accepted to refer to the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Peoples of Canada.

Alright, now back to the story. The sentence goes on to state that "the Indians, who probably rightly claimed the land"...let's stop there. The Syilx/Okanagan peoples did not probably have claim to the land. They did have claim to the land, for land is not something bought and sold. It is something to be respected, cared for, and treated with dignity. It is a living entity, in which we inhabit, learn from, and utilize. Not to mention, before the founding and development of Powers Flats, there were already people using the land.

Finally, I want to pay attention to the word "harassed", for if we were to say that this was what really happened, we need to ask ourselves why? What caused the Indigenous people in the area to harass the settlers if they in fact did so? One simple fact is that it was not the land of William Powers or David Erskine Gellatly's, who later settled there. The land, if land can belong to anyone, belonged to the First Nations who resided there. There does not need to be any further discussion.

So, when telling the history, and more specifically, the history of Westbank, it is not enough to represent two people groups, but you need to share both perspectives. For example, the founding of Powers Flat from the settler perspective does not tell the full story. Its founding is problematic. It comes with the mistreatment of the land and the people who lived there. There are two necessary perspectives and to put them side by side without any further context as to why one may be inaccurate is a disservice to history and storytelling. For a museum is not neutral, and rather it cannot be, without reinforcing the dominant narrative that excludes and oppresses individuals on the margins of society. Further, a museum is not boring because it has the potential to educate, agitate, and push us further than the ones who came before us. So, when we rethink the way history is told, we open up discussions for change and a rebalancing of power, which I believe is essential moving forward.

Works Cited:

Autry, La Tanya & Mike Murawski. "Museum's Are Not Neutral." https://www.museumsarenotneutral.com/
Brotherton, Dorothy. "Pioneers tell Westbank history best." Westside Weekly, 15 August 2013, pp. 13.
Shilvock, Win. "The men behind the names." Gellatly, Dorothy. "The Gellatly Pioneers." pp. 85-87

When It's Time To Do The Work

Open your eyes and sit up straight.
Go to the bathroom and run a brush through your hair
Put it up or style it differently than the way you always do
Put on your finest clothes
Do your make-up in subtle shades of pink and brown
Have some breakfast, something better than sugar cereal or an apple
Turn ON your favorite music, a podcast, or the news
Listen to what the words have to tell you
What are they saying
Where is there work to be done
If an Indigenous person tells you a story, do you treat that information as a gift
Are you ready to learn something new
Do you understand that there must be TRUTH before there can be reconciliation
And trust before there can be truth
Look for those who are hurting and learn from those who are strong
Recognize that sometimes people are both
Finally, don't feel guilty for the past or ashamed of your privilege
USE your privilege, ACKNOWLEDGE it
Don't just say you're not racist, but be ANTI-RACIST
For you know when it's time to do the work, you know.

Take a minute and read the above poem. Then read it again and possibly a third time. Let the words wash over you. Are you still wondering when it's time to be an ally? Are you curious as to what being an ally actually looks like in your day-to-day life? Are you afraid the stories you hear about Indigenous peoples are fake news? Is the news blowing Indigenous issues out of proportion? Do you question what it means to speak up and actively challenge racism? Perhaps, you are unsure about how to navigate uncomfortable conversations with your friends or coworkers.

I could go on, listing off a litany of questions that you or I have wondered about for days, months, and years. Perhaps, you are tired of all of the media noise and are looking to find just a hint of clarity. Maybe I am tired of giving all the answers. But of course, that is not fair to you, a fellow questioner, someone who is only trying to help. Someone who is just starting on this journey, one I have been on my entire life. So let me tell you a story, let me give you some rules, guidelines you can choose to follow or not, and let's go on a journey of reconciliation.

1. What Are Your Motivations?

When you think about what it means to be an ally, you have to ask yourself why? Why is being an ally important to you? When I think about being an ally, I think about individuals who remain in my corner no matter what. I think about those who do their research, ask the questions they need to ask, and then amplify the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) theorists, activists, and friends. It is so easy to post something on social media, say "I'm not racist" and do nothing of any real substance. This is called being a performative ally which can be defined as someone who does the work in order to be recognized and receive credit or reward. Being an ally is an active action. It is not enough to take a passive stance on issues of race. So, when you think about becoming an ally it is important to remember that the journey towards reconciliation is not easy but necessary.

Think about Canada Day, 2021, and the #cancelcanadaday that was running rampant on social media. I had a few messages from friends concerned about my wellbeing with the constant revelations of unmarked graves in residential schools across Canada. I saw orange hearts hung from the Kelowna bridge and lowered flags to honour the lives lost. Now, I'm by no means a die-hard Cancel Canada Day fan, but I agree that this year needed to be different. Rather than celebrate a country built on genocide and violence, I wanted to reflect on why I was proud to be Canadian. Was I proud to be Canadian because I was not American? Because Canadians were considered to be "nice" and "polite"? Because my nation was somehow better than another in terms of violence? Upon asking those questions, I realized I needed to do some hard-core reflections about Canada's legacy and what I hoped it would one day become. It was for those reasons that I chose not to celebrate Canada Day. The responses I received from my decision were mixed.

I had some friends who wore orange shirts, had a moment of silence, and asked me to read some of my poetry for an event they were having. On the other hand, I got a message from a friend in a group chat that said, "Happy Canada Day" and when I told her I wasn't celebrating she asked me why. I told her, expecting the conversation to end at that or perhaps end with some reflection on her part. Instead, she said ok, but for those who are celebrating here's a Canada Day sermon, I think you all should watch. I'll admit, I was taken aback. I didn't need her to stop celebrating, but I wanted her to at least listen to me, and maybe think about it herself. Rather, I felt ignored, invalidated, and denied. It wasn't about whether or not I thought everyone should stop celebrating or not, but it was about listening. Being an ally means you take the time to listen, and reflect. I don't want you to send me a text of an orange heart with no context or to choose not to celebrate Canada Day because I told you to. I want you to think about why you are doing what you are doing. I want you to think about what it means to celebrate or not. It is for this reason that motivations matter. I am not looking for empty gestures or meaningless slogans. I am looking for people who can be actively anti-racist.

2. Educate Yourself.

I've said it once before and I'll say it again. Education is one of the most important aspects of being an ally. We live in a world of information at our fingertips. As Bo Burnham says in his song "Welcome to the Internet", we have access to "a little bit of everything, all of the time." With that being said, what are some ways that we can find the right content? Well, my first piece of advice to you would be to get off of Facebook. Whatever article your Aunt Karen or Grandpa Dave sent you is probably not the information you're looking for. I know you love them dearly, but they're probably not always the most reliable members of the family. Then again, maybe they are, no offense to all the Karen and Dave's out there. In all we see, do and read, it is important to check where their information is coming from. For example, I am always looking for educational content to read and watch. I check out Instagram accounts designed for the sharing of BIPOC voices such as @soyouwanttotalkabout @decolonizemyself and @oncanadaproject. However, I also make sure to check the credentials of everything I read and whether or not I can find the content through another avenue. This allows me to help think critically about the information I am absorbing and discern whether or not the information is "fake news." Okay, so now that we're done talking about social media, at least for now anyway, where can we look for great Indigenous content?

The first thing I'd suggest is to read the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation committee along with the TRC Calls to Action. Then, think about at least one call you can implement in your own life, your household, or your business. Check out the links on our resources page. Finally, remember that Indigenous peoples and people of colour are the experts of their own realities and histories, so turn to them for information about their own language, culture, and traditions.

Click the link below to check out Part 2 of When It's Time to Do the Work: A Guide to Being an Active and Positive Indigenous Ally.

Works Cited:

Burnham, Bo. "Welcome to the Internet." Inside, Netflix, 2021.
“Everyone Calls themselves an Ally Until It is Time to Do Some Real Ally Shit.” Ancestral Pride, 28 Jan. 2014,
Ward, Robin. “Building Trust Before Truth: How Non-Indigenous Canadians Become Allies.” Indigenous Innovation, 22 Feb 2019. https://www.animikii.com/news/building-trust-before-truth-how-non-indigenous-canadians-become-allies
u/0800dan. “Welcome to the Internet Fan Art.” Reddit, June 2021.
Ward, Robin. “Building Trust Before Truth: How Non-Indigenous Canadians Become Allies.” Indigenous Innovation, 22 Feb 2019. https://www.animikii.com/news/building-trust-before-truth-how-non-indigenous-canadians-become-allies

Pt. 2: When It's Time to Do the Work:
A Guide to Being an Active and Positive Indigenous Ally

Content Warnings: Please note that this article touches on issues of race, police brutality, and privilege and may be difficult for some audience members.

In Pt. 1 of When It's Time to Do the Work, I began to unpack what it means to be an ally. I talked about understanding one's motivations for being an ally and how to educate yourself in a busy internet world. In part two I am going to discuss privilege, being open-minded, and admitting our mistakes. So, let's get into it.

3. Be Willing To Admit your Mistakes.

Mistakes happen and in fact, they are bound to, but being open to making mistakes and learning from them is an essential part of being an ally. As an example, I'd like to share the story of one of the first times I realized the importance of being an ally.

It's the story of the murder of George Floyd on May, 25th 2020, and what happened after. I admit that upon hearing the news I was a little numb. It was yet another horror story that existed apart from me and my life. In the week that followed one of my good Black friends began posting on social media excessively. Almost every day and sometimes, multiple times a day, she would post something on the matter. Sometimes the words were an outcry of grief and other times they were a call to action, but witnessing her pain laid raw on social media left a stirring inside me. I realized that I couldn't sit still any longer, and I couldn't be silent. So, on June 2nd, 2020 I participated in #BlackoutTuesday. I posted a black square on my social media with the #BlackLivesMatter. What I didn't realize was that while I believed I stood in solidarity with my Black brothers and sisters I was blocking the Black stories and history that was being shared with the hashtag. Rather than educating the public on the history of police brutality in the United States and Canada, I was contributing to the silencing of Black voices. Now that may sound dramatic but for days after the matter, my feed was covered in little black squares rather than information about police brutality. Of course, my journey didn't end there and I believe that I learned from my mistakes by continuing to listen to the activists who have been doing the work longer than I have. So, I started writing my own posts and sharing the work of Black, Indigenous, and white theorists and activists who have valuable information to share on the topic.

4. Acknowledge Your Privilege And Use It.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about privilege. You know, the big bad scary word that makes white people shut down upon hearing it. Look I get it, but please don't shut down, privilege doesn't have to be a bad thing! At least, not when you understand it and are able to use it to strengthen those on the margins.

Ok well, how do I do that, you may ask? It's simple. And complicated. And really difficult actually.

In "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", Peggy McIntosh describes "white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was meant to remain oblivious." In other words, we are taught about overt racism, you know, the acts of aggression in which people of colour are called a torrent of racial slurs, spit at, and sometimes even violently assaulted. We are told that those are bad things and that people shouldn't do them, but we are not taught about microaggressions. The subtle ways in which people of colour are disadvantaged, while white people remain ahead. We are also not taught about systems of oppression that exist within our healthcare, education, justice, and cultural institutions.

Now let's get one thing out of the way. White privilege does not state that you do not experience disadvantages and hardships. It also does not say that you should feel guilty for being white. After all, you didn't choose the colour of your skin. But what discussions around white privilege are saying is that the colour of your skin is not contributing to your struggles.

When recognizing your privilege it is important to note where race may be affecting your daily life. In fact, sometimes I need to recognize my own privilege. I am Indigenous, but my dad is white and therefore, the colour of my skin often allows me to pass as white. I can go to the store and buy a bandage in a similar skin tone to my own. I can choose every day to go about my life as if I am white. My last name is Griffin and so people don't automatically assume I am Indigenous unless I make it known. People don't cross the street to avoid me and I can go shopping without being afraid I will be followed. On the contrary, I am constantly asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. I am not always certain that I did not get a job as a result of my race and it is hard for me to find people of my race (Indigenous) represented in media, art, and writings.

So with all of that being said, privilege is not an easy thing to admit, but we must recognize that there are ways to use your platform as a white person to lift up Indigenous and people of colour. Share their content on social media, attend Indigenous gatherings and events, do your own research, admit mistakes and use your privilege. Remember privilege can be good, but only if we use it right.

In other words, being an ally isn't easy, and being an active and positive ally is even harder. I am not writing this article to scare you away or make you feel small. My hope is that through education, storytelling, and healing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can journey towards reconciliation by starting small and by learning together.

Works Cited:

“Everyone Calls themselves an Ally Until It is Time to Do Some Real Ally Shit.”
Ancestral Pride, 28 Jan. 2014, https://ancestralpride.ca/everyone-calls-themselves-an-ally-until-it-is-time-to-some-real-ally-shit/
McIntosh, Peggy. "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (1989) 1." Routledge, 2020.
Coates, Rodney. “White Privilege Cartoon.” Rodney Coates Outlines a 12-Step Program for Decolonizing Academe, Social Science Space, 2020.
Ward, Robin. “Building Trust Before Truth: How Non-Indigenous Canadians Become Allies.” Indigenous Innovation, 22 Feb 2019. https://www.animikii.com/news/building-trust-before-truth-how-non-indigenous-canadians-become-allies

From the "Spanish Flu" to the "Kung Flu": Why pandemics have Xenophobic names

By Jaden Cormack

When we raised our champagne glasses to ring in the New Year, no one could have predicted that 2020 would be the dumpster fire that it was. From Donald Trump's impeachment trial, to massive bushfires across Australia, to panic buying toilet paper, 2020 felt like the longest twelve months of our lives. While dealing with fear and anxiety of the rising COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the fact that it did not originate in Spain, the virus that killed between 20 and 50 million people was referred to as the Spanish Flu. While Spain was hit very hard with this flu, the first recorded case was reported at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 11, 1918 (1). One of the reasons the flu was referred to by this name was media coverage. As Spain was a neutral country during World War I, Spain was not subject to wartime censors. This meant that while other countries such Britain and France were suppressing news of this highly contagious and deadly disease to avoid affecting morale, Spanish news channels were free to report this virus with horrific details. News coverage increased when King Alfonso XIII was hit with the flu in May of 1918 (2).

Soon, the rest of the globe realized what was happening. Widespread panic began to sweep countries. Services and businesses began to shut down and masks became mandatory. In a time where the first World War was causing global panic, the"Spanish Flu" was yet another reason to be afraid. When we are afraid or angry, blame is an excellent defense mechanism. This deadly flu was rapidly spreading around the world, its mortality rate was frighteningly high, and there was no known cure. Our deep need to explain what caused the problem to occur results in finding a scapegoat to blame for the misfortune being experienced.With the case of this flu, Spain was quickly blamed as the source of this disease.

Now you can already see the parallel between the "Spanish Flu" and COVID-19. When this pandemic hit the United States, president Donald Trump was quick to re-coin the virus as the "China Virus," "Wuhan Virus," "Kung Flu," and many other variations. His anger and fear of the highly contagious virus was redirected to China. While some thought "kung flu" was a punny and clever name for COVID, the (not so) subtle ways in which Trump perpetuated anti-asian hate

The World Health Organization recommends against naming viruses after specific regions because it can lead people to unfairly stigmatize ethnic groups.

Works Cited:

1. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/1918-flu-pandemic
2. https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu