EDITORIAL: First Peoples exhibition hints at culture shift

Victoria News editorial from June 11, 2014 edition

The Royal B.C. Museum hosted delegates from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the weekend, marking the first time the organization held its annual general meeting in B.C.

UNESCO officials were keen to connect with local First Nations leaders during their visit as the museum prepares for its opening of the Our Living Languages: First Peoples’s Voices exhibition later this month. The interactive exhibition showcases the dialects of the Songhees, Esquimalt and dozens of other First Nations that weathered the near-disappearance of Lekwungen, T’Sou-ke and other traditional languages of their people in the past two centuries.

But the future can provide opportunity to make up for past mistakes. The museum’s three-year exhibition will give visitors, and more importantly thousands of B.C. students who visit each year, a deeper perspective on First Nations culture.

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Committee is also in the midst of evaluating the Douglas Treaties for world heritage status, a symbolic move that would only help tell the story of our chaotic modern beginnings on Vancouver Island.

The 14 land title documents were amazingly the only such evidence of formal land agreements between the Crown and First Nations for 150 years until the Nisga’a Treaty was signed in 2000.

It’s also encouraging to see Songhees Chief Ron Sam and Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas accept replica copies of the Douglas Treaties, in the shadow of their ongoing legal battles for land title in Cadboro Bay.

Add to the mix the inaugural Aboriginal Cultural Festival taking place June 19 to 21 at Ship Point and the newly completed Unity Wall mural at Ogden Point, and the culture shift begins to feel palpable.

By showing a willingness to work together, the autonomy of First Nations can be preserved while working co-operatively towards common goals.

We applaud the Royal B.C. Museum and the First Peoples’ Council of B.C. for working to quash ignorance by celebrating our fascinating, diverse cultures and reconnecting British Columbians with the bigger picture.