The word Lheidli generally means "they flow into each other" and in modern times that has a symbolic power above its original description of the long-standing people of this region.
For an estimated 10,000 years at least, this area was the domain of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, and still is. Their whole name literally explains that they are "the people where the two rivers flow together" but a nationwide internet broadcast on Wednesday shed light on how they are now in the act of flowing together into modern times and mainstream cultures in ways the whole of Canada can learn from.
The Exploration Place is the area's primary museum and science centre. It is located atop the actual site of the main Lheidli T'enneh village, in as much as this mobile and semi-nomadic civilization engaged in such lifestyle practices at the time of contact with incoming Europeans.
The park surrounding The Exploration Place has a confirmed Lheidli burial ground only a few dozen metres away and when construction happened this past year to build a new family picnic pavilion only a short walk from their back door, even more remains were uncovered.
It is also the site of the original Fort George, the trading store built in 1806-07 by Simon Fraser and his North West Company crew (they merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821).
Clearly this facility is located on a rare and pivotal cultural spot.
The Exploration Place CEO Tracy Calogheros and curator Alyssa Tobin were asked by Canadian historical education agency Canada's History to be guest speakers for their online webinar series entitled Engaging Authentic Indigenous Histories.
On Wednesday, they delivered a live speech that talked about how The Exploration Place and the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation were wrapped in a groundbreaking relationship to preserve the area's ancient history and tell the vivid story of the place and people rooted on the spot where their facility was located.
"We signed an MOU (in June, 2017 that officially repatriated all the Lheidli artifacts ever held by the museum, but also made Exploration Place the official repository for historic Lheidli items) that was quite unique in Canada," said Calogheros. "We are now assisting in the formation of a Lheidli elders' society, we have obtained funding support from the BC Arts Council to hire a Lheidli T'enneh member as a curatorial assistant to begin that technical training for looking after artifacts and developing public programming, we are working with School District 57 on curriculum material in support of their First Nations content in the classrooms, and of course we have our permanent display."
Hodul'eh-a: A Place of Learning is the year-round gallery that opened in 2017 to forever depict the culture of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation and the surrounding Dakelh cultures of the broader region.
"It's the first time the Lheidli have had a place to tell their story, and because of this site and what it means going back in time, it couldn't be better situated," Calogheros said. "There was a lot of pain and suffering that went with the expulsion of the Lheidli from this site, in order to make room for the Grand Trunk Pacific railroad and land developers of that day. A lot of wrongs were committed against the Lheidli when that all happened. So for us, it is a major priority to form trust-based relationships and put respect at the forefront of working together."
The nation has taken notice. The memorandum of understanding and the establishment of the permanent gallery led to The Exploration Place receiving the B.C. Museum Association's Award of Merit for Exhibitions, and then they and the Lheidli people won a Governor General's History Award.
"I think Exploration Place is leading edge in our relationship-building with First Nations, and our First Nations partners have been visionary in their outreach to us," said Tobin. "The achievements we've been able to realize together are important, we are very proud of that, and I think it is having a positive ripple effect into mainstream society in our area. The Lheidli are best equipped to tell their own story. We are very grateful and take very seriously the confidence they have shown in us to help them do that, and preserve the artifacts of their incredibly long history here."
This webinar, said Tobin, "is an opportunity for us to talk about the building of those relationships," and how it can be a model for other history, arts, science, education and cultural facilities across Canada.
The webinar can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OERxJnpftkU&index=10&t=0s&list=PL0yxSe7HtMnDGn1M9SHP88qFymjFgx2ja