PENTICTON - A small but growing grassroots First Nations' initiative is gaining attention in the Okanagan ahead of celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday.
That’s exactly what organizers of the Rethink 150 initiative hope to do, as the collective put up their second billboard last week.
The billboards — one in Lake Country and the other one iin the Similkameen near Cawston — depict First Nations' history pictorially since the the arrival of Europeans. They are meant to be interpreted individually, in the hope people will take a few moments to consider and start asking questions.
Rethink 150’s Dixon Terbasket says the initiative, made up of a collective of nine members and 25 volunteers, is about building dialogue and respect.
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band member says the idea began to take root last October.
“I started seeing ads for Canada’s 150th birthday, and began thinking, in all these major celebratory events the native story has been excluded,” Terbasket says, adding the idea took root amongst a small group of people that began to see Canada’s 150 birthday as the focal event around which they could build their idea.
Terbasket says the idea behind Rethink 150 is to stimulate discussion that will lead to a more educated general population about native history, what native life was like before European contact, and what that contact has meant to them.
For Terbasket it’s about respect as well.
He says yesterday, June 21, was National Aboriginal Day and most people weren't even aware of it and fewer participated.
"There’s no awareness, if you don’t know something as basic as that what else slips by?"
“When it comes to Canada’s 150th birthday, you know, there’s not really a lot for us to celebrate. Today we face stereotypical attitudes, people call us lazy, say we don’t develop our lands, that we’re drunken Indians - we’re not like that,” he says.
“Even in my community, people talk sour grapes about our predicament in Confederation, and nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to participate. But silence doesn’t do anything, if you don’t get out and do something about it, how are people going to know what’s going on?”
Terbasket says the billboards have been more successful than anticipated, and the collective is planning a third in the South Okanagan.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people who support us. One driver told me she drove past the billboard in Lake Country, and turned around and went back to study it further."
A series of native and non-native art shows are also planned at Kelowna’s Rotary Arts Centre between June 26 and July 3, with speakers and a bear dance planned between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Canada Day.
Terbasket says the initiative will carry on beyond July 1. The billboards will remain up, and he’s hopeful the will continue to spark a continuing dialogue that could even become an educational process that can be carried into schools.
Terbasket says it took several meetings for the group to come up with the Rethink 150 name.
"We need to have people rethink the history and find out what the real history is."
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