Friday, August 13, 2010

When a Siege Is Not Really a Siege.

This weekend marks the 125th anniversary of the Siege of North Battleford. This event as traditionally has been commemorated as a siege by the Métis and Cree on the white settlers in what would eventually become Saskatchewan. A recent article in the Globe and Mail, suggests that there may be some problems with the way in which Parks Canada has been reenacting this event.

Tyrone Tootoosis, an aboriginal historian, insists that no siege occurred. Rather the First Nation peoples approached North Battleford due to starvation and that the word siege suggests a much more violent action than what actually occurred. Parks Canada representatives have agreed that the event was not really a siege in the traditional sense and that visitors to the re-enactment will be give the full story. Additionally Parks representatives insist that they always attempt to portray multiple perspectives of historical events.

Attempting to portray multiple perspectives through a reenactment is a fairly daunting task. It is typically the winners who deem a battle worthy of commemorating and it is often the winners who preform reenactments. Granted, the reenactments always include the other side. But, at times this seems as though the opposition are only included so the winners have someone to dramatically defeat.

Is it possible to portray a completely unbiased historical account? Maybe. But this is an extremely complex task and often results in a whitewashed, passionless account of events. Should an attempt be made to portray history as accurately as possible? Yes. At times this may even mean changing the way in which things have traditionally been commemorated or named.

However, historical interpretations are limited by the sources available to historians, and this often limits how events are understood. This is particularly the case in North Battleford and many other events involve First Nation peoples. The oral nature of First Nation society means that written documentation is primarily only available from the settler perspective. Until further exploration of First Nation past through oral history and non written history is explored, it is likely that many historical interpretations will continue to be focused on the settler experience.