Colonial Reality Tour brings Indigenous land and history into focus

Cheryl Bryce felt that her nation was invisible in the city that is now called Victoria, located on Lekwungen territories. So, she set out to change that. Bryce founded the Colonial Reality Tour which educates people about the Indigenous significance of areas around the city.
Cheryl Bryce, founder and guide of the Colonial Reality Tour. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Originally published May 20, 2018

It was early morning, not quite dawn yet. Cheryl Bryce was walking into the woods in Beacon Hill, an urban park in Victoria, B.C., with her grandma to harvest tree bark. Bryce's grandma grew up making tea from the barks of trees and she was passing that knowledge on to her granddaughter

Bryce was nervous. "What do we do if somebody tries to stop us again?" she asked her grandma. "Oh don't worry about it, we'll be okay," her grandma reassured her.

Then Bryce heard a noise, something loud behind her. Thump thump thump thump.

Startled, Bryce turned around. As she moved, her harvesting knives flew out of her bag and landed on the forest floor. It was a jogger out for a morning run. "He was totally startled," Bryce recalled. "He looks at me and looks at my grandma, and he just runs the other way as fast as he could."

In that moment Bryce realized that there was no understanding of what her and her grandma were doing, "a little kid and a grandma you know coming into harvest." More than that, Bryce realized that there was little awareness among non-Indigenous people of her Lekwungen culture. In the city that is now called Victoria, located on Lekwungen territories, Bryce felt that her nation was invisible. So, she set out to change that.

Today, more than 30 years after that morning in Beacon Hill Park, Bryce regularly takes people on tours around Victoria to teach them about the Indigenous significance of landmarks and areas around the city. She calls it the Colonial Reality Tour. 

'A place to warm your belly'

One of the stops on Bryce's tour is Beacon Hill Park, or Meegan in Lekwungen. Meegan translates to "a place to warm your belly," explained Bryce.

Camas, or kwetlal in Lekwungen (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"It can get pretty pretty windy here but there are some spots as you walk down on the slope that you will find there's just a tunnel of no wind, and you could just lay down and warm your belly in the sun." 

In the spring, Meegan's meadows that overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca are sprinkled with the purple flowers of the camas, or kwetlal in Lekwungen.

Traditionally, the bulbs of the kwetlal were a major food resource for the Lekwungen, explained Bryce. "It was our biggest economy," she said. "It was our big bucks." Kwetlal bulbs were traded up and down the coast for items like razor clams and oolichan oil. "Nations came from all over to trade."

Bryce continues her nation's tradition by harvesting the kwetlal bulbs in Meegan today.

On her tours she talks about the importance of the kwetlal harvest, and she takes her groups to other nearby sites like a former longhouse and a burial ground which overlooks the sea.

Burial site in Beacon Hill Park, or Meegan in Lekwungen. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Bryce wants people to appreciate another version of Victoria.  To see "the history that is behind and deeper rooted than what you see in front of you today."

Click the Listen button above to hear Rosanna take the tour.