Urban Development, Archaeology, and Advocacy in Kamloops

An Update for the BCAPA Newlsetter on the Adventures of some Archaeologists in Secwepemculewc, February 2017

In 2016, the City of Kamloops reported record levels of residential construction: 589 development permits were issued (up about 27% from 2015) for projects worth about $158 million. In 2016 it also became apparent that an old gap in the regulatory process was becoming a significant liability to local heritage as development boomed.

With no mechanism in the City’s regulatory development process to inform prospective builders of risks to unrecorded archaeological sites, residential construction is being approved with no preliminary assessment. This is so for a number of reasons, but foremost are the City’s outdated processes, a regulator lacking the authority to enforce preventative assessment and unable to levy violation fines, and a real failure on the part of our discipline to help the public understand and appreciate heritage that’s in our trust.

This season, some of these AIA-free developments gained local attention for just these reasons. Homebuilders and developers failed to conduct AIAs because it had never occurred to them to do so. No regulatory development checkbox, no process triggered for heritage risk-management. No one knows who is—or should be—responsible for avoiding impacts to unknown archaeological sites.

In response to this situation, a number of local archaeologists here have been in regular discussions to find ways to improve this situation. It seemed like archaeology was having a PR problem, so our informal group began to throw attention at it, gently lobbying the city and Tk’emlups governments for improved process, offering our collective skills and experience as a resource. (Our recent letter to both governments is here, along with their response. Please do borrow from it to let your local government know you’re there and you care). I did some media outreach and the issue was covered positively locally. The City responded positively, too. Which only encouraged us.

This year, our small local archaeology network has been looking for other ways to improve public interest and local support for heritage protection. We’ve recently arranged to have a regular archaeology column in Kamloops This Week, a popular online and print newspaper. We’ll take turns contributing stories about the past and our work with it, with the aim of improving public interest, knowledge and local support for heritage protection.

We’re convinced that political support for archaeology of any kind, let alone good archaeology, hinges on public support. Legislators won’t induce change in regulatory process for something that few people appear to value. We’re in a good position to work on that. People need to see and hear about archaeology often, know it's going on around them, and have access to what we're learning from their “public trust”. We need to normalize it. To localize it. To add value.

We’re finding that Kamloops, like many smaller BC cities, is an ideal place to try to influence public opinion, and small enough to see results. Developers here are often local to southern BC, city government is small, transparent, and receptive to input, and people are generally empowered to speak out on issues that matter personally. If that sounds even a little bit like where you live or work, we recommend taking the plunge and helping promote archaeology and heritage protection in any way you can. Your expertise and professionalism matter, archaeologists, and your input is needed.


Another Roadside Attraction... that erases Indigenous people and reinforces colonial righteousness


I've been working on a Twitter project lately to try to bring some attention to the perpetuation of colonial narratives through public history. The project came about in response to a campaign launched by BC's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) to update the roadside Stops of Interest that dot BC's highways. When the first refurbished sign went up in my town, Kamloops, I was surprised and disappointed to see that only the paint had been changed. The tired, colonialist story remained: a vague celebration of wild west heritage that continued to ignore and erase Indigenous peoples' roles in history and the building of BC.

At a moment where reconciliation is in danger of becoming little more than a buzzword, I believe MoTI and other agents of settler colonialism have a real obligation to change the narrative in our public history. Indigenous people and places need to be written back into BC history. Knowing the truth about what happened between Indigenous people and settlers here is essential to BC's future, a critical step to righting the balance between us. Not only for the sake of Indigenous people (who already know they've been here the whole time), but for the rest of British Columbians, who've been raised on the settler-first diet of self-serving colonial stories. An understanding of who Indigenous people were at contact, how different waves of settlers interacted with them, and how we have all been affected since, is essential grounding for any reconciliation we can hope to achieve.

So I started to #rewriteBC. I offered alternative versions of the stories told on the Stops of Interest. My stories are based on settler histories and archaeological knowledge, all evidence readily available to anyone with the internet and a will. These are not Indigenous versions or perspectives (best left to Indigenous people). They are just other parts of the same history, details once recorded by non-Indigenous settlers, described by Indigenous witnesses, or inscribed in material culture and recovered through archaeology, details left out of the story we think we know.

You'll see what I mean in my rewrites below. Click on each double image to scroll through.

*updated with new signs February 2018