The town of Smithers in its early days. (Bulkley Valley Museum) A new book aims to document the difficult relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples during the early days of the town of Smithers.
In the early 1900s, many Witsuwit’en Indigenous peoples went to live in Smithers in northwestern B.C. after they were pushed off their traditional territories, according to Tyler McCreary, author of Shared Histories.
Up until the 1960s, it was common for towns like Smithers to have an Indigenous settlement with a mix of formal and informal housing, said McCreary, an assistant professor of geography at Florida State University.
These were often located on the fringes of urban communities.
The Smithers’ version of this enclave was located on the edge of town, was informally known as Indian Town.
"I think this is telling about the ways that we think about our communities and who belongs," McCreary told Daybreak North guest host Andrew Kurjata.
Shared Histories , which explores themes of racism, distrust and reconciliation, began with unanswered questions about the destruction of Indian Town.
The community existed from the early 1900s to 1967 when the municipality destroyed the final house.
Town officials levelled Indian Town to make way for more development of settler housing, according to McCreary, who grew up in the area where Indian Town used to stand. Witsuwit’en leader Jack Joseph (centre) and two of his sons in front of the Central Park Building in Smithers in this undated photo. ( Bulkley Valley Museum) End of Indian Town
In the 1930s, a number of Witsuwit’en residents participated in a tax revolt, fighting for the right for their children to attend public school along with the children of other taxpayers.
This movement came after the daughter of Witsuwit’en leader Jack Joseph died in a residential school, says McCreary.
But the Indigenous children were refused entrance to public schools. In response, most Witsuwit’en peoples in Indian Town refused to pay their taxes.
As a result, the municipality took the deeds to their homes away and Indian Town residents were treated like squatters from then on.
Over the years, a number of houses were lost to fire, according to McCreary, and people were unable to rebuild due to lack of insurance. In time, the Indigenous community slowly eroded.
"Part of what this book is trying to do is engage a community conversation about how we understand our community and where it comes from. And begin to think about and recognize the contributions of, not only settlers, but Indigenous peoples building these towns and communities."
Listen to the full interview: It wasn’t until he was an adult that Tyler McCreary discovered he grew up in a part of Smithers, B.C. formerly known as ‘Indiantown’ due to the population of Witsuwit’en living there. In his new book ‘Shared Histories,’ he explores why they were driven out of the community and how settler and Indigenous communities can move forward together. 10:14 With files from Daybreak North
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