Via Rail needs to in­clude Canada’s full story

StarMetro Edmonton - - News - Jes­sica Botelho-Ur­ban­ski Jes­sica Botelho-Ur­ban­ski is a free­lance writer based in Win­nipeg. She writes about the arts, travel and so­cial jus­tice.

This sum­mer, I took a trip many Cana­di­ans dream of (or so I’ve heard af­ter the fact). I trav­elled west on Via Rail’s Cana­dian line from Win­nipeg to Van­cou­ver.

The two-and-a-half-day trip me­an­dered through the moun­tains and myr­iad towns. As we passed by note­wor­thy sites, Via Rail sta an­nounced a bit of his­tory about each place.

Here’s a pulp and pa­per mill to your left. An oil re in­ery on your right. We’ve ar­rived at Big­gar, Sask., pop­u­la­tion: 2,161, slo­gan: “New York is big, but this is Big­gar.”

What be­came glar­ingly ob­vi­ous by mid-trip was the lack of Indige­nous con­tent in these an­nounce­ments. I didn’t hear ac­knowl­edg­ment of the treaty lands we ven­tured over or which Indige­nous Peo­ples in­hab­ited these un­ceded stretches irst.

I met Kate Black, a 23-yearold Ed­mon­to­nian who now lives in Van­cou­ver, on board and she lamented the lack of Indige­nous aware­ness, too. Black man­aged to snag a cov­eted Canada150 youth pass for the month of July and rode from Hal­i­fax to Van­cou­ver.

“I de initely learned more about Canada… but I didn’t hear any­thing about who was there be­fore the area was set­tled or what treaty ar­eas we were en­ter­ing. I feel like if we’re learn­ing about the set­tler his­tory of an area, we should be learn­ing the pre­set­tle­ment or Indige­nous his­tory as well,” she told me af­ter her trip.

Tak­ing a look at the Toronto-Van­cou­ver map Via pro­vided on the train, there were no men­tions of Indige­nous his­tory be­yond trans­la­tions of words (Toronto is the Huron word for “a place of meet­ings,” for ex­am­ple), a few al­lu­sions to the fur trade and a shout-out to the Win­nipeg Art Gallery for hav­ing the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Inuit sculp­ture and art.

Via Rail Canada “op­er­ates the na­tional pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice on be­half of the Gov­ern­ment of Canada” and “plans and fund­ing are ap­proved by the Trea­sury Board of Canada,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site. Last year alone, the rail ser­vice car­ried 3.97 mil­lion pas­sen­gers.

In what could have been a teach­able mo­ment for thou­sands more this sum­mer — es­pe­cially the more than 4,000 youth us­ing the Canada150 pass — Via dropped the ball on Indige­nous ed­u­ca­tion.

I asked the Crown cor­po­ra­tion’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions sta whether it has plans to in­clude more Indige­nous and treaty in­for­ma­tion. In an email, I was told yes, this will be “part of [Via Rail’s] strat­egy mov­ing for­ward.” Jac­que­line Ro­manow, a Métis wo­man and chair of Indige­nous stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg, weighed in on VIA’s re­ac­tionary strat­egy.

“There’s all kinds of sto­ries you could be telling all across the Prairies and Western Canada about how Indige­nous peo­ple were in­vol­un­tar­ily in­cor­po­rated into the Cana­dian state that would re­ally help [pas­sen­gers] un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion to­day,” she said.

If VIA is go­ing to at­tempt to tell these sto­ries, let’s en­sure it has Indige­nous Peo­ples’ voices on board irst and fore­most.

I didn’t hear ac­knowl­edg­ment of the treaty lands we ven­tured over.

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