A new mural is about to be installed in Vanderhoof! The Good Neighbours Committee and Saik’uz Elders group would like to invite everyone to attend the ‘unveiling’ ceremony at the corner of Hwy 16 and Kenny Dam Road on November 14, 2017, at 1:45 p.m. Refreshments will follow at the Firehall where we will celebrate the collaborative work that has resulted in the mural and the two new transit shelters that will keep commuters coming and going from Saik’uz protected from the elements.
The corner of Hwy 16 and Kenney Dam is a location commonly used by people waiting for rides to Saik’uz. There is no protection from the elements – sun, rain, wind, or snow – nor are there safe places to sit while waiting. In 2016, with the announcements of the Hwy 16 bus routes, the Good Neighbours Committee (GNC) began pursuing the installation of a shelter there. The GNC saw this as not only a shelter from the elements but as a bridge across the barrier that often divides the two communities of Saik’uz and Vanderhoof.
In her Carrier Cultural Competency workshop, instructor Sarah John speaks about the Great Nine Mile divide between Vanderhoof and Saik’uz. She describes the feeling Saik’uz people may often have when descending the Nechako Ave hill into Vanderhoof. Speaking of her own feelings, she and others like her may feel tense, uneasy and worried about “how will we be treated in Vanderhoof today”? We kind of put on an emotional armour.
Speaking about bridging the gap between the two communities, Sarah shares a lesson learned from her mother who had read a book by an indigenous author named Marie Battiste. Her mother, Colleen Erickson, described that people often visualize “bridging the gap” as a single bridge with a two-way street and a small flow of traffic, while a relationship is many bridges. Sarah uses this lesson in her workshop and speaks to the twinning of the Simon Fraser bridge in Prince George as an analogy, as the two bridges allowed for greater flow of transportation, which can be seen as a greater flow of communication.
As projects tend to do, this one grew, into two shelters – one at the corner of Hwy 16 and Nechako Ave and one at Saik’uz Veteran’s Park, and before long, a mural was also added.
Meetings with Chief and Council and staff of Saik’uz, the District of Vanderhoof, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the RCMP were encouraging as everyone was in full support of the project.
The first shelter was installed at the Saik’uz Veteran’s Park on November 1 and the second, at the corner of Hwy 16 and Nechako Ave on November 2.
The mural became a collaborative project between the Good Neighbours Committee and the Saik’uz Elders Group, and supported by the District of Vanderhoof and the Four Rivers Coop. From the start, the Elders vision was to create a mural that celebrated a time when settlers and Saik’uz people worked together.
Perhaps the time the Elders were envisioning is best described by former Chief Adanas Alexis in the book Vanderhoof the Town That Wouldn’t Wait. Chief Adanas Alexis (in his nineties at the time), was speaking to Sister Mary Paul about the area at the bottom of the hill on Nechako Ave (around Fourth Street to Stoney Creek where it meets the Nechako River).
“I know this place very well. When I was a teenager, 75 years ago, I hunted, fished, played and camped all around here. We called it Kelcucheck then. You know why? This is where our little river – Stoney Creek – runs into the big Nechako River. So that Kelcucheck means river-mouth.
Shortly before I was born, the government agent, Peter O’Reilly, came and marked out limits for our village. The idea was that we could own and live only on that reserved land set aside by the government. We didn’t realise then what was going to happen to the rest of the land we lived in. Back in the 1890’s none of this seemed to bother us. When the government men left, we hunted and fished as our ancestors had – even as far south as Bednesti Lake, 30 miles from here. There was still nobody to say “Get off our land’. But as I grew older, things began to change.
Probably the coming of the railway here in 1914 made the greatest change in our lives. One end of the line started in Edmonton and the other end up in Prince Rupert. The two lines met at Fort Fraser. My father, Eugene Alexis, was called the Captain. He got the contract for clearing the right-of-way for the railroad in this area.
Even before the railway was finished many people had already come to settle in Kelcucheck. As they marked off the boundaries of their homes, we slowly discovered that we could no long roam where we wanted. I think some of the people were scared of us or maybe they were shy, like we were. Others were really good friends. We taught them how to trap. We helped some to clear the land and even build their homes. When they first settled, many had hard times. We did too.”
The GNC put out a call for submissions of artwork, elements of which were included in the final mural. Saik’uz Elder, Arlene John said, “It took a long time to come up with the design, I just loved the teamwork. So much time was taken to think of the mural elements, to demonstrate what we felt, the meaning behind it. I hope people will see that: the clans, the language. We wanted to portray the values we want to see going forward – more collaboration, more partnerships between Vanderhoof people and Saik’uz people. The bus was a partnership too. We are taking positive steps, we’ve come a long way.”
The mural was painted by local artists, Annerose Georgeson and Michael Rees, and will be installed on the former Kwik Save building at the corner of Nechako Ave and Hwy 16. The public is invited to the unveiling celebration on November 14, at 1:45, with a reception to follow at the Fire Hall.