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Uprooting the ‘old narrative’ by sharing Indigenous stories, experiences

Indigenous history needs to be recognized
Steve Sxwithul’txw in his home in Cook Street Village. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

This is the fourth instalment in a special series prepared by Black Press Media. You can find more of the series and other articles on truth and reconciliation online at or in this week’s edition of Greater Victoria papers.

Steve Sxwithul’txw spent his 20s trying to find his way.

The Penelakut Tribe member and Kuper Island Indian Residential School survivor said at that age, you really don’t know what you’re doing. “You’re trying to find your way, break the strings of the past and reliance on your family,” he said

Today, Sxwithul’txw is 56 and living in Victoria’s Cook Street Village, having started a family of his own. After more than three decades of confusion with identity and place, he reflects on a career attempting to erase what he calls that “old narrative” of trauma and despondence seared into a derogatory perception of B.C.’s Indigenous peoples.

As a police constable, broadcast journalist and TV producer, Sxwithul’txw’s work has centred around community-led and community-based practices that create a fuller picture of different peoples.

Part of that came with Sxwithul’txw’s experience with a “different style of policing.” It began with a sign – a job poster looking for security guards while he was unemployed in his 20s. Eight months of training landed him a gig outside an Army and Navy department store in Vancouver’s East Hastings, “at the heart of where people have the toughest times in life,” he said.

He carried that experience with him as he started his own policing service in his home region near Ladysmith and Chemainus after going from a corrections officer at 26 to a police officer at 30.

But while policing on his own Nation on Vancouver Island built transferable skills, Sxwithul’txw said the work was made challenging by a lack of budget, equipment, and personnel and downtime came with the price of feeling woefully unappreciated.

The pressure of it caused Sxwithul’txw to leave the force in 2003, only revisiting it years later in his capacity as a journalist.

ALSO READ: Greater Victoria survivor recounts torture he endured at Indian Hospital

The move in that direction came from another job ad discovered during one of his last police postings. “They were looking for radio personalities for the community station … so I signed up and did four hours every Thursday night,” Sxwithul’txw said. The phone was soon ringing off the hook with song requests for “Constable Steve,” he said, which encouraged him to pursue courses in broadcast journalism.

Sxwithul’txw learned he had the knack for it in 2007 but while he enjoyed working in front of the camera for major outlets, he didn’t like the direction newsrooms were taking at the time. The regular features on dancing, drumming, drinking or death – coined the four Ds of stereotypical coverage by Indigenous journalist Duncan McCue – drove Sxwithul’txw away from mainstream media as they failed to portray a complex history.

Instead, he began a relationship with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network as an independent producer. One original show, “Warrior Games,” featured Indigenous athletes across North America and allowed its subjects to reclaim Indigenous identity through cultural sport. But it was “Tribal Police Files” that brought Sxwithul’txw back to the policing community.

The most surprising element of the series for Canadians, Sxwithult’xw said, was the different style of policing. The First Nations police services showcased were community-led and community-based, Sxwithul’txw said, and demonstrated that policing in Canada is only as strong as its community ties.

Considering an upbringing in a colonial system, living within the Indian Act, mediating the intergenerational trauma of residential schools and experiencing racism, Sxwithul’txw said the “rough ride” endured by North America’s Indigenous peoples needs to be understood if it’s to be addressed – whether that’s through the media or policing policies.

“There has to be some empathy … and some understanding.”

READ ALSO: ‘Who is going to be accountable?’: Action urged in Kuper Island residential school grave findings

Support for survivors and their families is available. Call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, or 1-866-925-4419 for the 24-7 crisis line. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society also offers 24-7 support at 250-723-4050 for adults, 250-723-2040 for youth, or toll free at 1-800-588-8717.

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A brick collected by Steve Sxwithul’txw from the site of his former residential school on Kuper Island. Its glass case includes a brief description of its history and 107 students known to have died while in attendance. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)