On this, of all Canada Days, we should look at the continuing shame of Fernie’s Ghostrider. To actively promote a tale of Euro promises, blithely broken, resulting in the vast degradation of Indigenous lands is beyond simply tone deaf.
There are Indigenous legends of the origin of the rider on the mountain. As one of Euro-heritage, I have no place in retelling these tales, but we should approach the Ktunaxa and humbly ask of these legends.
And then change the legend to respect and reflect the long-standing Ktunaxa heritage of our valley.
As is, the Ghostrider legend should not see the light of one more single day.
The following editorial is reposed from Off Camber from August 30, 2019 for Canada Day 2021.
Ghostrider Legend “Truth and Reconciliation”
Fernie City Council recently passed a motion to come in line with the municipal recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The actual result and actions of the Council in moving forward from this motion will be interesting to watch.
Will they walk the walk? Or will it be all talk? (Politicians in action)
The history of mining in the valley is best characterized by the very popular Ghostrider Legend. Briefly, it runs like this. William Fernie saw a piece of coal on a necklace worn by a Ktunaxa Princess and offered to marry her, if her father, the Chief, told him where to find more of the stones. Notwithstanding, there were no Ktunaxa ‘Princesses,’ no hereditary Ktunaxa chiefs, no Ktunaxa would likely (then or now) give up anything to marry a white man, and that the land and resources (then and now) belong to the Ktunaxa.
In fact, the legend gets even better. On learning of the location of the black rocks (coal), William Fernie jilts the ‘Princess’ and goes on to mine the valley without the permission of the Ktunaxa.
If there ever was a legend accurately portraying the relationship of the invading white men with the Indigenous residents of BC, this one hits it on the head. Promises made, promises broken, land taken and ravaged (see any picture of the mines today) without regard to the Indigenous peoples originally living on the land.
The fact the legend of the Ghostrider persists in Fernie—as a common business name and the name of the minor hockey team—is a testament to how brutally tone deaf the majority of residents in this town remain to the extreme injustices wrought on the Indigenous people who lived and cared for this land for over 14,000 years before the white guys showed up.
Years ago, to their credit, being aware of the current cultural environment, Teck stepped up to become a partner with the Ktunaxa and consult with them in their many projects. Teck’s support and consultation with the Ktunaxa changed, in a small but substantial way, the dynamic of the relationship in general. Kudos for Teck.
Now, it is far past the time for the City of Fernie to do the same.
I believe in these days of Truth and Reconciliation, the insensitivity and injustice of the past needs to be recognized. There is no better way than to profile the actions of the people that disregarded and stole from the Indigenous people who first lived here. To recognize that profile when it is still promoted and to actively work to change that shameful action.
We are not a tourist valley. We garner some revenue from tourists. Still, 70% of the economy of the valley directly derives from the mines (Our stolen heritage). And the City of Fernie celebrates that with the re-telling of the Legend of the Ghostrider to every visitor that will listen or walk through the Miners’s Walk.
Tourism is like a fancy duvet tossed on a mattress and box springs to dress up and hide the deep shame that lies underneath. If you look, even take half a glance, what’s underneath the duvet is glaringly obvious.
Let’s recognize the history, the shame, the duplicity and lies of the people that founded Fernie.
Let’s put mining into the proper historic context. Let’s accept the shame of the past and work together for Truth and Reconciliation. Let go of the Ghostrider Legend, bury it.
Replace it with the original Ktunaxa story. Let them drive the next years of our history.
While I have been told the Ktunaxa legend, it is not my place, as a non-Indigenous resident, to bring forward the legend. This is the duty, in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, for the community and the City to work with the Ktunaxa and bring that legend forward.
With the City of Fernie saying, with formal motions, they will move forward in Truth and Reconciliation, this is the time for the City to walk the walk and quit giving the Indigenous peoples who lived here for so long a very short and shameful end of the stick.
This is the time to awake from the shame of our past, to move on in a true spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.
About the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Intended to be a process that would guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system, the TRC was also meant to lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada. By Keith Liggett