Remembering Tomorrow: Wagon Roads, Identity and the Decolonization of a First Nations Landscape


Abstract


Roads embody the experiences of those who construct, use and maintain them through time. Using a biographical approach I explore how memory and identity are entangled in the material remains of a wagon road in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. First constructed by the Royal Engineers in 1859 to enable miners to reach the Fraser River goldfields, the importance of this road transcends its colonial origins. Entwined in different webs of meaning, the material remains of the wagon road continue to play a role in the lives of people today. In this article I investigate the significance of this wagon road to the indigenous Stl’atl’imx (pronounced Stat-lee-um) people of the lower Lillooet River Valley who aim to preserve it as a part of decolonizing and reclaiming their traditional territory and identity. I also look at the road’s importance to a group of Grade 10 students who experience it as part of a high school excursion that teaches outdoor survival skills alongside lessons about British Columbia’s historic past. While these two groups have different experiences of the colonial encounter, for each their understanding of the road goes beyond its physical form to its ‘place’ in understanding their own identity.

Keywords


Wagon roads; Lillooet River Valley; identity; heritage; memory; indigenous; post colonialism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/phrj.v23i0.5326