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Viewpoint: An understanding of Tla'amin Nation/Powell River history is needed

It is time to change the dialog, to be open and teachable ~ John Matterson

I was pleased to read the opinion piece by Tla’amin Nation hegus John Hackett [“Viewpoint: Some things aren’t worth fighting over,” May 24].

I fully support renaming Powell River. Israel Powell represents all the negatives exposed as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Powell actively participated in cultural genocide.

I have far greater insight today thanks to work I am doing with Joe Gallagher, who is from Tla’amin. I am white and grew up in Grief Point. We were friends as teenagers, but it has taken us getting together many years later for me to start seeing the world through his eyes.

I am learning to understand and face my own misconceptions, racism, white privilege and white fragility.

Hegus Hackett references the negative social media feedback the movement toward a name change has generated. While there were some supporters, too many were negative, racist and ignorant. I selected a few examples below:

“What’s next? Rewriting history?”

It’s not a rewriting of history that is needed. It is an understanding of history.

Prior to settlers arriving in Tla’amin territory, Tla’amin people lived sophisticated, abundant and rich lives in balance with the land. The arrival of Europeans, their intentional spread of disease, theft of land and disregard for sustainability robbed the Tla’amin people of their riches.

Resources were sold or destroyed by settlers with no compensation to First Nations. Lot 450, comprised of land from Grief Point to Tla’amin, was purchased illegally by a close associate of Israel Powell’s with much of it given for free to white settlers. 

“If history never happened, they wouldn't have the wonderful things they are blessed with today.”

Powell River was a wonderful, rich town for white people to grow up in. The people of Tla’amin were not invited to participate despite the resources that drove the riches coming from their territory. Today, Indigenous people in Canada make up nearly five per cent of the population, yet only own 0.2 per cent of the land. That is not being blessed.

“The Powell River Company built homes, a hospital and schools.”

Great, except these developments were not available to “Indians.”

“Nothing will make them happy. You can’t keep giving and giving for mistakes that happened.”

What is it you think you keep giving? We can’t continue to accept that First Nations people are poorer, have higher rates of incarceration, live shorter lives and have poorer health. We need to get to reconciliation, a place where they have equity.

“The term 'the white man' is racist toward people of European descent, too.” 

This is classic white fragility. As a white person, you may experience some discrimination, but you are part of a privileged class, and therefore not subject to racism.

I have never been afraid to call 911, or afraid of the police. I have always been treated extremely well in the medical system. I trust the legal system to treat me fairly. I’ve never had trouble getting a job, and I have never had to turn the other cheek when being insulted by my friends about my race. That is privilege.

There are far too many misconceptions when it comes to the treatment of First Nations in Canada. I encourage everyone to take the time to watch the YouTube video I put together:

It is time to change the dialog, to be open and teachable. And if nothing else, accept the name change because it is what someone else needs, and it doesn’t hurt you.

John Matterson is currently a resident of Tsawwassen. He grew up in Powell River and still considers it his home.