My first experience with the Indigenous history of the Sun Peaks area came a few years before I lived in the village. I was newly arrived in Kamloops and looking for stories as a journalism student. When I mentioned to my instructor that I was interested in the mountain, they suggested writing about Indigenous land claims and rights in the area.
Green as could be, I found myself interviewing a very neutral faced public relations spokesperson and was told it was basically a non-issue. The messaging was that any land claim disagreement was between the government and the bands and had been concluded years before; Sun Peaks Resort had an agreement with the provincial government to be there and that was that. Everything was legal, above board and there wasn’t really a story to tell.
At the time, I didn’t have the knowledge or background to understand this was far from the entire picture. Coming from the Prairies, I had never heard the term unceded. My naïve internal paradigm as a fourth generation settler didn’t easily allow for the idea that any of us could be here illegally or unethically.
Reflecting now, I can see it was easier for me to turn away from the story as it was uncomfortable. I could sense the annoyance and tension from the spokesperson. And this was a place where I wanted to be accepted. Coming to the mountains to ride was the whole reason I moved to finish my degree. Like so many others who live here, I had fallen in love with the area and wanted to belong.
Later, during my years of employment and residence the history of Indigenous rights and the collective action around resort expansion were rarely raised. When it was mentioned, the statements seemed to back up the official messaging. It was implied it was only a small, radical fringe group that felt they had any rights to the area and they only became interested once the land became “worth something.” I was told of settler families who had been in the valley for 100 years and had never seen an Indigenous person there. These are just a few examples. It’s uncomfortable now to think about how I absorbed this casual racism over the years without challenging these narratives.
I wasn’t the only journalist who had trouble telling this story. I’ve read through most of the available local media coverage from the past two decades regarding Sun Peaks and its Indigenous history; the framing almost always supported the economic and tourism benefits of the resort and emphasized the criminal actions of those who oppose it. Rarely were Indigenous perspectives, knowledge or cultural practices included. Often, as with my initial experience, the official organizations are portrayed as neutral parties with no power. Looking through SPIN’s archives, you won’t find anything on the issue. This was an editorial decision prior to my ownership, however it’s one I need to take accountability for as the current managing editor and publisher.
But throughout the years I began finding other breadcrumbs—a trail that pointed to a much more complex and nuanced situation. These perspectives and stories are harder to find but worth the extra effort. Through conversations, research and readings, I’ve begun to unpack my role, responsibilities and relationships as a resident, business owner and recreational user of Sun Peaks in this context. It’s messy and it’s necessary. And I know many others have similar questions and concerns about reconciling our community’s future and our place in it with its past and its Indigenous neighbours. While many people may feel the responsibility for this ultimately falls at community officials’ feet, it’s equally important for individuals to reflect on their own part in creating relationships.
The goal with our recent feature article outlining the rich and immense Indigenous history of the land Sun Peaks sits on was to provide a foundational piece of understanding to build from. We know it’s not perfect, however we hope it can be a jumping off point for future articles and conversations. As a rapidly growing community, it’s a collective responsibility to welcome and uplift the preceding perspectives and stories that have largely gone unnoticed in our village. All residents, both old and new, should have a basic understanding of what these mountains meant well before the earliest settlers arrived and what they still mean to Secwépemc peoples.
With the first National Day for Truth & Reconciliation being commemorated later this month, we hope many of our readers will be taking the day to honour those lost to the residential school system, and also to understand how the internalized or casual racism we encounter every day continues to wound. Rather than making this a national “holiday,” I hope we can take this invitation to expand our conversations and reflect both individually and as a community.