The Qalipu First Nation raised the subject with the Grand Falls-Windsor town council earlier this summer, expressing dismay over an apparent lack of respect for the fact that in 1967 the site was named in honour of Shawnadithit – the last known Beothuck – and the monument marking that honour had been left to deteriorate.
When asked about the matter, Mayor Al Hawkins provided us virtually the same response he offered when the issue was raised by a local resident years earlier: to paraphrase, ‘the town didn’t know enough about the matter, but there would be some research done and a decision made on how to deal with the matter at hand’.
The concern of the Qalipu was presented in a letter (which apparently got misplaced) and as off last week, the chief was still awaiting an official response to that correspondence, although there was indication from the deputy mayor that the group would be invited to meet with a committee of council this week.
This may not be the most critical of issues on the table at council chambers, but certainly one that should warrant a sufficient investment of staff time to research the background, aid councillors in formulating a timely official response, and communicate that to those who want to know what will be done.
In fact, the matter may even present a great opportunity.
The town is in the middle of an exercise leading to the development of a tourism strategy. It’s been stated time and time again by residents and councillors that the celebration of our heritage should be front and centre in what we do.
The province’s museum administration arm closed the local Logger’s Museum earlier this year but the door was left open a crack for the possibility of redeployment of the research and development that had been done on that vital link to the region’s history.
There is already a Mary March Museum in close proximity to the facility the Qalipu now want rightfully recognized. Both those entities neighbor with the Grand Falls House and properties (which was just subject of a sustainability study) and, of course, the paper mill that gave birth to the town is being dismantled. There is hope the heritage surrounding it can be captured in some form.
It makes sense then to name the complex now more widely recognized as Teck Centennial Field as it was meant to be – Shawnadithit Park. The various components of that park – the skateboard facility, the athletic fields, the volleyball courts, the trails – can all be named individually without any dishonour to the true namesake. In fact, the co-operative cohabitation would reflect the communal nature of her people.
The approach also brings the added benefit of pursuing corporate partnerships to develop funding deals for naming rights to the various components. Those funds could then be reinvested for development and promotion.
This cluster of heritage celebration could then be used as the centerpiece of heritage celebration – what could (and should) be a plank in the tourism development platform.
As tourism development strategies go — Grand Falls-Windsor could be the centre for Beothuck history; similar to how Elliston has become the centre of excellence on the history of the province’s sealing industry, and similar to how Arnold’s Cove is positioning itself to be a centre of excellence for those who wish to learn about the resettlement program of 1960s NL.
Long considered the capital – the leading community in a very successful region – Grand Falls-Windsor can offer the centerpiece, the catalyst to bring multitudes of visitors to enjoy the historical, cultural and scenic attractions of the region. Places like Bishop’s Falls (which recently embarked on a development and branding initiative) and Botwood with its tremendous museum offerings, and the coastal communities who offer so much of the scenic beauty that visitors crave would combine for a world-class destination.
A display of leadership would also serve to force the government’s hand in terms of capital investment in the local tourism product as well as featuring Central more of it in the award winning tourism advertising programs for which this province has become so widely known.
The Qalipu are right to bring this matter to the forefront. The resolution need not be about appeasement, but more about doing what’s right and using heritage and cultural celebration to solidify a future.
After all, we can’t have a future without a past.