Heritage for Healing, Heritage for All

I’d like to tell a story about the power of heritage to heal, to reconnect, and to rebalance.

Driving on the TransCanada Highway west of Kamloops, you’ll cross Durand Creek just above its mouth at Kamloops Lake in Savona. This is the traditional territory of Skeetchestn, a division of the Secwepemc Nation historically known as the Deadman’s Creek Band, or even farther back, the Bout-du-Lac Indians.

Today at this spot there's a mill, a highway, and railway. Skeetchestn histories tell us it was once a busy fishing station, one of many small villages occupied until the 1870s, when settler encroachment became intense here. By that time, gold rushers-turned-rancher and farmers had claimed the most productive lands and waters along the Thompson River and Kamloops Lake by 1880, in defiance of BC’s plan to set aside “lands reserved for Indians”.

Secwepemc people continued to use some of the land, now under title or lease, either by the grace of the owner or covertly, into the 1940s. Skeetchestn elders say they were ousted from Savona for real in 1950s, when the TransCanada Highway was built through here, and neighbouring properties were fenced and gated. Elder Elsie Hewitt recalled how promised Indigenous rights quickly lost out to private property rights and new landowners’ political power: “They’d always ask us, ‘why did we give up our rights?’ We had no choice, we were chased out. We were told we were trespassing.”

So generations passed, and alienation from this property strained the community’s connection to this place. Little was known about how people used to live here (obviously, theft of Indigenous languages and wretched epidemics didn't help with continuity of knowledge, which traditionally relied on oral record-keeping).

Last year, under the heat of the summer sun, Skeetchestn and Tk'emlups heritage crews went back to find that connection to ancestral use, using archaeology. I went too. The archaeological site we found had been disturbed by a century of uses—an orchard, a mill, an airstrip to name just a few—but traces remained.

We found a story’s worth of artifacts: tools made by ancestors of stone quarried locally at Arrowstone Hills, bone implements for fishing, and clues about the diet that once sustained Secwepemc families: bones of deer, elk, marmot, and salmon. Horse & cow too, from the early post-contact era. The artifacts tell us the site was occupied from 150 years back to at least 2,400 years ago.


The archaeology we did here wasn't groundbreaking. We found what we suspected we'd find, what the Elders said was there. More important was what it did for the people involved: it drew a direct line between today’s Skeetchestn fishers who work the lake nearby and their ancestors who did the same. It allowed the yucwmiʼnmen (caretakers) who found the site to exercise traditional heritage stewardship roles usurped by colonial rule. And for seme7 (whites), for whom oral history isn't concrete enough, or relevant, the archaeological finds were an exciting, accessible way to make past Indigenous occupation tangible.

Heritage is really about people, not things. When we find artifacts, we’re holding pieces of past lives, we’re revering a connection between people—all people, though all time. We can’t undo colonial damage, but a new kind of heritage stewardship can change the balance. Think about it, the next time you pass through here or somewhere like it: there is a past under there. It may or may not belong to you, but it has meaning and value for all of us.