Mennonite museum can help redress grievous wrongs of the past
I crisscross Sumas Prairie (central Fraser Valley) on my daily school bus run and marvel at the lush agricultural land and the ingenious canal system that completed the draining of Sumas Lake in 1924, releasing more than 13,000 hectares of rich lake-bottom and marsh land for farming. But as I pick up and deliver students whose home is the Stó:lō Nation community at the edge of the former lake, I contemplate what they lost when they were disinherited from their ancestral lake with its rich supply of food and resources. I am aghast at the plot of marginal land they were left with.
Whenever I drive through Yarrow, Sardis and Greendale, I think of the Mennonites who were among the earliest settlers to open up this vast land for farming. Driving around Sumas Prairie now it is obvious how we prospered on this new farmland and in the thriving communities that it anchored.
With that in mind, I invited for coffee the curator of the new Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, set to open this fall. I was encouraged to hear that the museum plans to include this story as a component of the story of Mennonites in B.C. How fitting to redress our history with that of the indigenous people, from whose loss we so generously benefited, by exploring:
- What is the restorative justice potential that we can explore that will lead us Mennonites of the Fraser Valley into a conciliatory relationship with the Stó:lō people whose territory we came to occupy?
- What does restorative justice look like when agrarian societies prosper at the expense of non-agrarian societies?
- Could we further investigate the meaning of the story of Cain the farmer and Abel the herder?
Much to think about.
Allen Harder, Abbotsford, B.C.
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