When Laura Stovel was growing up in Revelstoke, she thought no one lived here prior to the European settlers arrival. She was told the Indigenous people avoided the area because of the deep snows and rugged mountains.
“I now know that this is far from the truth,” writes Stovel in the preface of her new book entitled Swift River.
|Swift River was released last month. It’s been several years in the making. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
The book covers an untold history of Revelstoke that was kept under water until recently. Turns out the Indigenous Peoples’ presence in this area was strong, particularly with the Sinixt. There was even a village named Skxikn (sku-hee-kin-tin) that was located in the Big Eddy.
However, once settlers arrived the Indigenous people were driven away. The giant trees were felled for railway ties and even the soil beneath Skxikn was dug up for cultivation.
“This is how a people disappeared, a nation vanished. Here. In Canada. Almost,” writes Stovel.
When Stovel was working at the Revelstoke Museum in the 1990s, she came across old newspapers that didn’t only mention European settlers in the areas, but also Indigenous people like the Sinixt. Curious, she started to research more. At first, she did it off the side of her desk. Then about five years ago, Stovel said she dove right in.
At first, her aim was just to write a literature review or a “skeletal frame” with compiled sources. So if anyone wanted to learn more they could.
In the end, Stovel’s book goes far beyond the bones by providing the names and stories of the women, men and children who knew, lived and travelled the upper Columbia River.
Stories like Adeline, an Indigenous woman whose husband was shot and killed by settlers. Right in front of her. The settler was acquitted of manslaughter at the Revelstoke courthouse and Adeline was forced to leave the area. Regardless, Adeline lived until the age of 106, inspiring her great-granddaughter to lead a revival of Indigenous languages in Washington State.
“This book is written for Revelstoke. It’s written so that people do not have a simplistic idea of us coming into an empty landscape,” said Stovel during an interview with the Revelstoke Review.
The historical narratives in the book flow into each other, exploring various instances of colonialism. Each story is tied together by the thread of the Columbia River.
“Above all, it is an ode to the River that connects as all,” she writes. For the Indigenous People who lived in Revelstoke, the river was a highway, source of food and spiritual comfort.
Stovel has an academic background, studying how societies reconcile after mass violence, such as reconciliation and trust building in post-war Sierra Leone.
“I consider colonization a form of mass violence. It completely attempted to wipe away the culture. The culture of the first people,” said Stovel.
In many ways, Stovel’s book is about loss. The loss of Skxikn. The loss of the Columbia River. And the loss of Indigenous history.
“But it’s also a story of resilience. People have fought back,” Stovel said.
Even though the Canadian government declared the Sinixts extinct in 1956, the nation is anything but. According to Marilyn James, spokesperson for the Sinixt Nation, they currently number more than 6,000 people, making them similar in size to Revelstoke.
“I want to be very clear that we are a strong people and that is why we are still here,” writes Shelly Boyd, the Sinixt Facilitator for the Confederates Tribes of the Colville Reservation. She was one of the contributors to Stovel’s book and wrote the last chapter.
She continues, “For our people this is not a story of ancient history; this is a living story because we are a living people. These things didn’t just happen to people we no longer know. They happened to our Grandmothers and Grandfathers and they continue to vibrate within us.”
Stovel will be presenting her new book at the Revelstoke library on Jan. 30 at 12:15. Swift River is also available for purchase at Grizzly Book & Serendipity Shop and the Revelstoke Museum.