Education through tourism is proving to be an exciting venture for Cheryl Chapman and Mike Retasket who have returned to Barkerville once again to offer an original people’s perspective.
“I’m really happy that Barkerville has made room for us to create dialogue,” said Retasket. “I don’t know everything but I don’t know of another place that you can come and talk about First Nations people, and we’ve had so many great conversations right here and answered so many key questions and helped people and showed them ways that they can work toward our reconciliation as well.”
Chapman said over the years she was fortunate to learn about her family history in which her great grandmother’s family would help to bring goods and services to Barkerville. She passes that history along to visitors.
Together since 2007, Retasket was not always involved in the tourism industry prior to meeting Chapman. He said he had participated in numerous protests including the expansion of the Sun Peaks Resort where in 1999 he had dressed in full camouflage and shouted ‘no Olympics on stolen land.’
With Chapman, who was already involved with the Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC, by his side Retasket, however, discovered a new love for tourism and was front and centre at the Aboriginal pavilion in downtown Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.
“Through that time what I found out about it’s so much more effective when you’re talking about the history of the First Nations people and there is a way to share that sad history of what happened without laying guilt, share, or blame,” he said.
“It’s so much more effective to do it that way because it becomes healing, and it becomes important work when people become engaged and really listen to what has happened.”
Chapman, who helped the Soda Creek Indian Band develop the Xat’sull Heritage Village in 1995/1996, said she told Retasket who was once Chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band that he had the opportunity to share his story and educate others instead of ‘standing on the outside and throwing rocks.’
“He went from ‘no Olympics on stolen land’ to ‘welcome to Canada,’” she said with a laugh. “I’m like ‘I don’t know what happened’ and he’s like ‘you happened to me.’”
Since last year, she and Retasket have been sharing their stories each day with visitors at Barkerville located approximately 86 kilometers east of Quesnel and 10 minutes outside of Wells.
“None of us were really sure how it would work out,” Chapman said. “It was exciting to be provided the opportunity. All I’ve heard from people is ‘it’s about time.’”
Chapman is only at the site three days each week as she also works with the Soda Creek Indian Band.
Retasket meanwhile is there seven days a week and when not chatting with visitors keeps busy by playing a hand drum or flute and carving stick game sets and totems consisting of an eagle, bear and coyote. He said he learned totem carving from his brother who had attended the Kamloops Residential School where he had met other students from the Coast and underneath the steps would carve totems with a razor blade.
Prior to Barkerville accepting visitors, Retasketand Chapman broadcasted live online sessions from their backyard teepee at Deep Creek where they had reached 4,300 students from across the province. Chapman said she also had the opportunity to share her family’s story with the Girls Guides of the World in a one-day session.
Although COVID-19 has stopped them from passing around drums and artifacts to visitors, Chapman and Retasket said they did not think once about not coming back to Barkerville for the remaining 2020 season.
They both agree story telling and education is the key in moving forward from racism and ensuring a painful history of colonization, residential school and epidemics that killed many First Nations people including the majority of those at Bear Lake which was later named Bowron Lake is not repeated.
They hope to be able to continue telling and sharing their stories at Barkerville and that others will be able do the same in the future and join them.