British Columbia

Okanagan educator wants to answer the hard questions on Indigenous issues

An Okanagan Indigenous educator wants to teach, "everything you wanted to know about Indians but were afraid to ask."

'Sometimes questions aren't asked because we do not know what is politically correct today.'

Wilfred Barnes, left, and Pamela Barnes, right, doing a presentation on Indigenous culture at Okanagan College. (Submitted by Pamela Barnes )

An Okanagan Indigenous educator is encouraging people to ask anything they've ever wanted to know about Indigenous culture, people, history and current affairs. 

Pamela Barnes, an adjunct professor in the nursing department at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus and her husband, Wilfred 'Grouse' Barnes, will conduct a series of workshops that discuss Sylix culture and tackle misconceptions people may have about Indigenous issues. 

One of those workshops is called "everything you wanted to know about Indians but were afraid to ask.'

"The misconceptions are endless. There's 500 years of misunderstanding and misinformation," Barnes, a member of the Westbank First Nation, told Daybreak South host Chris Walker. 

The public workshop—held March 2 at the Okanagan Heritage Museum—is part of a Truth and Reconciliation series hosted by the Kelowna Art Gallery and Okanagan Heritage Museum from January to April. It supports a new exhibit called Our Lives Through Our Eyes: Nk'Mip Children's Art, which opens Jan. 19. 

The exhibit will feature 75 works of art created by children who attended the Inkameep Day School on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve during the Second World War.

Wilfred 'Grouse' Barnes, left, and Pamela Barnes, second from left, sitting while participants act out an Indigenous creation story at a workshop event at the Kelowna Art Gallery. (Kelowna Art Gallery)

A safe space

Barnes says that she wants people who come to the workshop to feel free to ask whatever they want about Indigenous people, whether they be questions about taxes, history, education or housing.

She says the workshop will attempt to give some understanding of the Indigenous worldview prior to settler contact, the current state of affairs for Indigenous people and a way forward. 

Those who attend the workshop will be able to submit questions anonymously, which Barnes says creates a more comfortable and safe space. The questions will be answered during the workshop.

"There's not been enough dialogue about these issues, and sometimes questions aren't even asked, because we do not know what is politically correct today," said Barnes. 

Wilfred 'Grouse' Barnes speaking at an opening for the Kelowna Art Gallery. (Kelowna Art Gallery )

The Barnes' hosted a private mandatory 12-hour workshop for Kelowna Art Gallery staff over two weeks in December to prepare them for the upcoming events.

"I think that when we're presenting material that is culturally sensitive, we need to fully understand that different people have different reactions to the facts," said Kelowna Art Gallery executive director Nataley Nagy.

"We also needed to make sure that we dispelled any myths [about Indigenous culture]," said Nagy.

Listen to the full Pamela Barnes interview:

With files from Daybreak South