Tara Willard’s video, Setétkwe (Ancient River Song), filmed by Wapikoni, was requested to be shown on Earth Day by the Canadian embassy in China. (Wapikoni image)

Tara Willard’s video, Setétkwe (Ancient River Song), filmed by Wapikoni, was requested to be shown on Earth Day by the Canadian embassy in China. (Wapikoni image)

Secwépemc artist’s musical message shared by Canadian embassy in China for Earth Day

Indigenous education worker Tara Willard received melody for song during outing with family

What began as a melody received at the bank of a local river that receded long ago has rippled into an opportunity to share Secwépemc culture and values overseas on Earth Day.

About 12 hours before School District 83 Indigenous education worker Tara Willard was recognizing Earth Day (April 22) with students in the Shuswap, a video of her singing on the banks of the Adams River was being played at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, China.

Titled Setétkwe (Ancient River Song), the video was requested by the embassy to help mark Earth Day there.

The request was a surprise and an honour for Willard, who was happy to share the song and its message.

“It contains a message for the environment and about water…, it contains a message about Indigenous culture and land and environmental issues,” said Willard. “It’s going to another place in the world which is quite amazing.”


Willard said she received the melody for the song about 10 years ago, when she was out with her children, roaming the silt cliffs near her home along the South Thompson River. In the process, she explained there was a moment when she looked down at her house and the river below, and at river rock immediately below her feet, and recognized how big the river once was while recalling the oral histories of her Secwépemc elders of the last ice age.

“I was standing there with this ‘Aha!’ moment, when all your observations come to this one little point,” recounted Willard. “It was really quiet and one little river rock jumped up in the silence. And after that rock landed this melody was in my mind.

“I call it the River Song because this is the background story of what it was, from observations of how ancient the water, the earth, everything is, and how connected we all are to it.”

Willard said the song evolved over time with the words, sung in Secwepemctsin, added later.

Later, Willard would share the song with Sue Whitehead and Bev Dewitt’s Grade 6-7 students. After learning the song, the students were encouraged to create their own lyrics. The students entered their art and the song in a contest with Waterlution, a global network focusing on the importance of water, and won.

Following that experience, through Splatsin family connections in Enderby she was able to connect with Wapikoni, a mobile film studio that travels to Indigenous communities to help develop artistic, social and professional skills through the use of audiovisual technologies. Wapikoni filmed Setétkwe, featuring Willard in Tsútswecw Provincial Park. The video synopsis describes the song as “an ancient melody of gratitude, respect and remembrance of Sacred Water and our connection and responsibility to the source of all life.”

Read more: Salmon Arm students win province-wide Great Waters Challenge

Read more: Video: All ages rally in Salmon Arm to demand climate action

In addition to appearing on the Wapikoni website and on Vimeo, Willard said it was requested for a showing at a Canadian film festival.

“The latest request came in last week from the distributor; in a respectful way they called me and told me the video had been requested to be shown at the Canadian embassy in China… And I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing! Yes, I agree,” said Willard, who views the opportunity as another ripple caused by that rock above the South Thompson River.

“There are songs and some of us, maybe a lot of us, can hear these songs,” said Willard. “There’s lots more out there if we listen to the water, if we get quiet and listen to the trees. Anywhere, any time, if we’re out in nature, they’re out there. And anybody that’s tuned in can start singing.”

Setétkwe from Wapikoni mobile on Vimeo.

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