‘Settler, please:’ B.C.’s racist historical signs have got to go, argues archaeologist
“The implication is that all the land was here for the taking and it’s only ever been prosperity and good times since then”
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A Kamloops archaeologist is making the case that many of B.C.’s historical “stop of interest” plaques, which in most cases extol the achievements of European settlers, need a total rewrite.
“There are so many that don’t explicitly say anything racist, but the implication is that all the land was here for the taking and it’s only ever been prosperity and good times since then,” said Joanne Hammond. The plaques are the responsibility of B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and can be found at points of historical interest throughout the province.
Hammond, who works primarily with First Nations communities but is not herself Indigenous, has given it a stab herself. Using Photoshop, she turned the plaque “Fur, Gold and Cattle” into “Salmon, Copper and Elk,” with a short narrative describing the economy of the Secwepemc and how the arrival of Europeans negatively affected Indigenous people.
Another plaque describes how in 1885 a government engineer named Walter Moberly found a route for a railway by shooting at an eagle nest and watching to see which direction the birds flew. Hammond’s rather snarky rewrite starts “Settler, please,” and asks why “this guy gets a plaque” for “harassing wildlife.”
Hammond says she isn’t suggesting she be the one to say how the signs should actually be rewritten: that should be a collaboration between the Ministry of Transporation and local First Nations. There are a few good examples of more recent plaques that tell the story of B.C.’s First Nations people, she said, but are still heavily outweighed but the signs that only convey colonial history.
While the ministry recently called for submissions for new plaques, Hammond is arguing that the old signs simply need to go.
“Part of the problem here is that it’s not benign to leave out most of history in these stories,” Hammond said. “You’re telling essentially a lie if you’re only telling one side of the story.”