A dinner hosted by Historic Hat Creek (HHC) on May 3 brought together council and members of the Bonaparte Indian Band, representatives of the Heritage Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development, MLA Jackie Tegart, and staff and board members of Historic Hat Creek to begin looking at a renewed partnership with the Bonaparte Band.
Bonaparte chief Ryan Day said there have been meetings to discuss the relationship with HHC following the radical change in the government after last year’s election. “The Premier and ministers have said that heritage sites need to tell a more full story of Indigenous people, so in this area it would tell of the experience of the Bonaparte Band at Historic Hat Creek. This is our place, and it’s time to build a new future.
“We have decision makers in this room, and it’s time to build a new vision of this place and tell our stories. There is a commitment from government to make this happen.”
Tegart, recalling a time when the roadhouse was dilapidated, said that “I think we’re in a new space. We have an opportunity to show the rest of B.C. what we can do together. We need to talk about what the future looks like for this community, and it’s important that we all work together. I wish for great things to happen to this facility.”
Richard Linzey of the Heritage Branch said he was aware of the long connection of the Bonaparte Band with Hat Creek. “I hope this is the start of a conversation to help visitors and guests be aware of the history of this place, and to start a recognition and reconciliation of historical wrongs.”
Bonaparte councillor Frank Antoine, pointing to his young daughter, said that “One of the reasons we need to come together is for the next generation. I’m honoured to be a part of this. We all have the same goal of bringing people to our community, and we need to document our community. I’d like to see people bring history back here from the Bonaparte community. We talk about losing our culture on the reserve, but we could demonstrate that culture here.”
Several Bonaparte community members stood to speak positively of their days as working cowboys at the site when it was operating as a ranch owned by the Jackson family. Dave Antoine said “One thing I’d like to see happen is keep our culture alive, not our history. There’s a big difference. We need to keep that alive here to succeed, and bring our culture to the forefront.”
Philip Morgan spoke of integrating the band’s heritage and culture at the site. “Do things the old way, and teach and understand our ways. We have an opportunity to work together.”
It was noted that different age groups have different ways, and look at things differently, so an interpretive side would hinge on what band members want to show to the people of the world. Keith Zabotel said “This ranch not only taught our people how to cowboy, it turned us into champions, turned us into bull-riders and calf-ropers.
“That’s how we grew up. There’s so much history. Let’s bring that history to the forefront. The Jackson family wasn’t just our employer; they looked after us. They knew our struggles and helped our families. Because of this ranch I learned how to break horses and rope. I became a cowboy.”
It was noted that there are artisans at Bonaparte who could contribute, as well as elders and storytellers, and that a display of cowboy skills could be brought back. “We have elders who really know the history [of the area], and we need to take advantage of that. When the elders have gone we will lose a lot of that history.”
John Pierro said that he had worked at the site for many years. “I met people from all over the world and made a lot of good friends. It’s really nice to be able to come here and socialize. We have to be able to live together, and it’s good to be able to talk about our culture, but we need to talk about history as well.
“I do our culture; I don’t talk about it. We need to teach others, and show [our culture] to our European friends.”
At the end of the evening, Frank Antoine said “This is a start. Managers and board people come and go from Historic Hat Creek, but the Bonaparte people are always here. Let’s move forward.”
HHC board chair Robert Sharkey said “We’ll be working with the band on the actual process. There are multiple facets of heritage and culture that we need to pull together. The Heritage Branch is backing and supporting us.”
After the meeting he told The Journal, “We want to move on to making this joint effort happen. We’ve laid out a good, solid first step. We’re forming a social and productive connection, and laid out a social and business way forward, and I think we can succeed with both. We want to work with the band to do things to enhance and grow Historic Hat Creek and add Indigenous elements to the tourism aspect. We need to move together into the future.”