WHEN I WAS a young girl, I lived in a small town surrounded by First Nations Indian Bands. Even so, I had almost no interactions with local First Nations people. Their children didn’t go to the school I went to because, of course, they went to Indian Residential Schools and Day Schools.
Even though we were only a few kilometers apart, people from our town didn’t mix with people from the reserves. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t know there were differences. Our family would drive from our town to surrounding towns through the reservations. I would look out the car window as we drove through the reservations, and it was as if we were in a different country.
The contrast between the prosperity of the town I lived in and the stark poverty of the First Nations communities around my town was obvious even to my young eyes. There was shabby housing, decrepit cars and, especially to my young eyes, abysmal playground equipment on the reservations. At six or eight years old, I didn’t understand the reasons for the differences, but it was clear to see.
I remember asking about it at the time, and being told “that’s the way they want it”, as if the difference between my prosperity and their poverty were the First Nations’ choosing.
Now, we talk a lot about reconciliation. We are working to rectify colonial policies that perpetuate injustice, while at the same time building stronger relationships between non-First Nations and First Nations in Canada.
There are many things that reconciliation can be, from a territorial acknowledgement, to revitalization of First Nations languages. From celebrating First Nations art, to inviting a First Nations elder to bless a meeting.
Reconciliation is also providing services to First Nations communities that non-First Nations communities take for granted.
When BC Transit, along with the City of Kamloops and Tk’emlups te Secwepemc came together to offer transit service to and from the two communities, that was a form of reconciliation.
It is not a given that BC Transit will stop in a First Nations community, even if a bus goes right through it. There are transit buses that go from Chase to Kamloops, which don’t stop at Neskonlith First Nation. Similarly, the transit bus from Clearwater stops at Little Fort and Barriere. It also passes through Simpcw First Nation, but it doesn’t stop there.
There are some towns and First Nations which have transit between them, like Pemberton and Lil’wat First Nation. But more often than not, the bus doesn’t stop. For example, BC Transit has route between Ashcroft and Clinton. The bus drives right through Bonaparte Indian Band, but doesn’t stop.
BC Transit isn’t the only bus that doesn’t stop in First Nations communities.
In our region, library services are provided by the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD). It is an excellent service with 14 branches from Blue River to the north, to Merritt to the south. The region is so vast, that the library also provides a mobile library bookmobile which goes to smaller communities such as Monte Lake, Pritchard, Green Lake, and Quilchena. In all, it stops at about 25 small hamlets and villages.
But the bookmobile doesn’t stop at even one First Nations communities in the TNRD. Not Adams Lake, Skeetchestn, or Whispering Pines First Nations. None up the North Thompson, none in the Nicola, none in the Southern Cariboo.
Looking across the province, other library systems provide limited to no services on First Nations as well.
Perhaps that’s the way they want it. Just like when I was a kid.
Or perhaps, more similar to Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, who worked hard for years to get transit service between Kamloops and TtS, First Nations want a place at the table to define the types of library services they want in their communities.
I think of the late Richard Wagamese, the renowned Ojibwe writer who lived for many years in Kamloops. He frequently retold the story of how libraries gave him a sense of who he was, and a path towards becoming a writer. Expanded library services would be such a meaningful offering of reconciliation to First Nations here in the TNRD, and in all of BC as well.
Reconciliation is many things. One thing it needs to be is acknowledging that non-First Nations communities have long benefited from services such as transit and libraries that adjacent First Nations haven’t had.
Reconciliation will be when local governments, including the TNRD, work with First Nations communities in B.C. to expand transit and library services.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.