As Barkerville Historic Town and Park gets ready to host its sixth annual Indigenous Celebrations this Saturday (July 20), there is even more excitement in the air than usual, as this year’s event will also mark the soft launch of new Indigenous programming at the historic site.
“It’s something we’ve been looking forward to putting into place for a number of years, and it’s taken a good 20 years of conversations with the local First Nations communities and testing the waters with things like our Indigenous Celebrations,” said James Douglas, Barkerville’s public programming and global media development lead.
Saturday’s celebration will be based in the log pavilion building, where there will be a stage set up for presenters, and artisans will share their work.
“Although it’s a huge building, it’s got a very intimate feel to it,” said Douglas.
The Indigenous Celebrations feature Lhtako Dene cultural performances, St’at’imc Bear Dancers, Xatsull dancing and drumming, songs and storytelling, traditional foods, children’s crafts and more.
They have Hoop Dancers from Lhtako Dene every year, which Douglas says is always a highlight.
“That’s great because there’s a whole gamut — there’s a young woman who comes up who is a provincial champion, and it goes right down to a small gaggle of young kids who are really just learning everything, and it’s so beautiful to see them in their regalia and really trying their best to follow along to a number of these more complicated dances,” he said.
Drummers, storytellers and dancers from Xatsull, including Cheryl Chapman and Mike Retasket, have been coming for several years as well.
“He’s a former and hereditary chief of the Bonaparte Nation, and she is now the economic development officer for Xatsull and looks after Xatsull Heritage Village, and they’ve been friends of Barkerville for years, and they’ve been coming up and sort of leading the dance component,” said Douglas. “He is a world-class dancer. His regalia is incredible. Together, the two of them just bring a tremendous sense of authenticity, in some ways, especially with Cheryl — she has direct familial connection to Barkerville. Her grandfather was one of the stagecoach drivers that came up from Williams Lake to Barkerville during the Gold Rush, and there are some photos of him in our archives, so it’s always been really great.”
A group of Bear Dancers from St’at’imc have also been coming up each year.
“It’s really great to be able to get representation from all sorts of places from B.C. because you really get an opportunity to see the fine detail and the real differences, because, of course, the geography is different and, therefore, the way these communities are interacting with nature is quite different,” said Douglas.
Douglas says they usually end the day with the Bone Games, or Lahal Games, which is a simple but really fun game.
Douglas says as they build, they would love to move the Indigenous Celebrations from a daytime celebration into a nighttime celebration, almost more like a Pow Wow, with some trickle-over activities into the next day.
“Even though it’s only been one day a year the last six years, it has really benefited us as a historic site to be able to create connections with a variety of regional communities and to help build a level of trust, I think that we’re all trying to really make sure there is a great opportunity for authentic representation here at Barkerville,” he said.
“Because the thing about Barkerville is, although there wasn’t ever really — as far as we can tell archaeologically — a community that was based out of here, this was a really important piece of the puzzle for a number of different communities, right from the Northern Shuswap — there was actually a settlement by Bowron Lake that was unfortunately wiped out by smallpox in the 1860s — but from there to the Lhtako Dene and the other bands in the Quesnel area, and then coming from Lillooet up through Soda Creek and the Xatsull area. They all used this area as crossing territory, so if they were getting from one area to another, they would use this. It’s been so great to be able to touch base with all of the partner communities and start the development of something more permanent in Barkerville.”
This year, Barkerville Heritage Town and Park received funding to be able to offer full-time Indigenous programming, which they will soft-launch on Saturday and continue until the end of September.
This will include arts and culture demonstrations and workshops and storytelling, and they have been cutting the path on two different trails that will provide opportunities for trail walks, historical tales and plant identification.
“It’s going to be really great,” said Douglas. “We’re now looking for other sources of funding to ensure the program continues. We need to make sure now that this is finally happening, that it stays and is something that can be sustained because it really is an important thing. “There is a huge component of the development of this province obviously that involves the First Nations, and there is a great series, both on the positive and the negative, of stories about the Indigenous contributions to the Gold Rush. And of course the smallpox epidemic is part of that story, and whether it was intentional or not, it was devastating to what happened here, so that is something that as a museum, we have no fear in discussing because it is the truth — it’s the authentic truth of the situation.”
However, there are some very positive stories, people’s dependence on the First Nations in the area in order to even have the Gold Rush be successful at all.
“I think it’s really important because so many of these stories are not our stories to tell — they are those communities’ stories, and it only makes sense, as much as we try to impart some of that information, without there being a specific Indigenous interpretation element, it’s just gotten to the point now that we realize we can’t presume to speak for those communities. So the more we can get involvement from our First Nations communities here, the better it’s going to be for everybody.”
All activities on Saturday are included in the cost of admission. Free admission is being offered to visitors who identify as Indigenous, Métis or Inuit.