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Indigenous Cities project works to counter erasure of history

Ronnie Dean Harris takes listeners to Sapperton Landing for a recounting of the story of what happened when Indigenous chiefs met with the governor in May of 1864
Sapperton Landing
The area now known as Sapperton Landing is the setting for The Promise (1864), part of the Savage Society's Indigenous Cities project.

How many times have you walked Sapperton Landing without knowing its history – or, perhaps more accurately, the erasure of that history?

The Savage Society is working to bring Indigenous memories and stories back into the public realm with a new project called Indigenous Cities.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to counter the Indigenous erasure that happens within cities when people who have lived there for thousands of years suddenly become erased from the landscape. This is a way to try to uncover some of those Indigenous stories, be they personal or historic or passed-down memories, all interpreted through artists,” a press release explains.

One of the stories featured in the project – which is presented with the National Arts Centre – is called The Promise (1864). It’s based right here in New Westminster, in the area now known as Sapperton.

Artist and memory holder Ronnie Dean Harris tells the story of a gathering that was held for Queen Victoria’s birthday in May of 1864, when thousands of Indigenous people, led by 55 chiefs, came to meet the governor – and a promise to those chiefs that was never fulfilled.

The 15-minute story can be viewed as a video or listened to on location, taking the audience from point to point along what is now known as Sapperton Landing.

“Today while we stand here on unceded lands, with an ancient reverberation of occupation and complex web of cosmological and historical memory encoded into the landscape, in communities of those connected to it, I hope that you can be activated to remember and further understand the events that have happened here, in this space, as you look around and see the effects that is has had on the lands and waters, and the kinships with those living beings connected to them,” Harris says in the video.

“I hope you can put this on your heart and mind and be a witness.”

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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