Secwépemc Elders guide stories, bless sites for Shuswap Landmarks project

First three Landmark signs named for trout, tule and a gathering place where soopolallie bushes grow

Jeremiah Vergera and Darah Thurston, Shuswap Middle School students who did the ceremonial unveiling of the first Trailhead post on June 1 near the Little Mountain fieldhouse in Salmon Arm, speak to Neskonlith knowledge-keeper Louis Thomas. Coming next in the project are Landmark signs. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Jeremiah Vergera and Darah Thurston, Shuswap Middle School students who did the ceremonial unveiling of the first Trailhead post on June 1 near the Little Mountain fieldhouse in Salmon Arm, speak to Neskonlith knowledge-keeper Louis Thomas. Coming next in the project are Landmark signs. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

The words of Secwépemc Elders and their ancestors will be visible to those who read the story boards of the Secwépemc Landmarks Project coming to Salmon Arm and the Shuswap.

Adams Lake Councillor Shelley Witzky, who has been leading the project, and Libby Chisholm, project coordinator, came to Salmon Arm council’s July 12 meeting to provide an update. The project has been designed to create awareness of Secwépemc traditional territory through a series of landmarks or sculptures at highly visited areas, as well as trailhead posts around the region.

Copies of three landmark signs were presented for council to see: the Sxwesméllp or Switzmalph Landmark, to be placed in the Marine Peace Park near the wharf; the Pisell (trout) Landmark to go at R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum; and the Peptneltcw (tule) Landmark for Little Mountain.

The project has been a process of cultural protocols.

The landmark signs have been created with, to date, seven meetings with an Elders advisory committee representing the First Nations in the region.

“We wanted to stick with personal stories because it’s the pure history through time, and it was activities they did as children on those sites, or it was direct oral history from their grandparents or grand-uncles and aunties, stretching back through time… So that’s that pure knowledge, coming through, stretching through time,” Witzky said.

Read more: Secwépemc Landmark to be located by entrance to Salmon Arm wharf

Read more: Salmon Arm expresses ongoing support for Secwépemc Landmarks project

Read more: Indigenous history in Shuswap recognized with unveiling of first Trailhead post

Two site blessings were recently held, one at the wharf and the other at Haney. Witzky said 14 Elders were present as well as 10 others. She said they were in a public area and onlookers were curious but watched respectfully. 

“Now that those two sites have been blessed, they are considered an Elder – they’re actually considered a living Elder. So the Elders asked us to ask your staff and R.J. Haney staff to cordone off the area… Until the sculpture is put in place, that Elder is there to protect the site, from people getting hurt in the area…

“It was just an amazing ceremony…, Witzky said.

“That’s part of our Secwépemc protocol, is that we ask the Creator for permission to use those sites, and then the Elders blessed it so no injuries would come or to the best of their ability keep everyone safe for this project.”

She said six more site blessings will be done throughout July, in preparation for breaking ground.

At the top of each sign’s story will be a red banner containing a common statement from the Elders.

It begins: “Secwépemc (‘the spread-out people’), a nation of 32 Salish speaking communities that have been divided into 17 bands by the Indian Act, are 10,000 people strong and growing…”

Witzky said the signs will be in the area “for our guests, our neighbours and visitors, and for our future generations.”

She also thanked Libby Chisholm, saying 99 per cent of the work on the project has been hers.

Witzky concluded by thanking council “for allowing us to come into your jurisdiction and share our culture with everyone in a really good honourable way.”

Both Mayor Alan Harrison and Coun. Kevin Flynn voiced appreciation for the presentation and said they’re looking forward to having the landmarks in place for everyone to see.

“I think education is the pathway to reconciliation and so, this is a big piece, and we appreciate you bringing it to us,” Harrison said.

The landmarks are expected to be installed in late September of this year.


martha.wickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

#Salmon ArmFirst Nations