Artists Urge Settlers and Indigenous Peoples to Work Together to Save Salmon – Salmon Arm Observer
As the salmon make their increasingly dangerous and epic journey from the coast in the dominant year of the Adams River salmon run, the huge significance of the salmon also goes to the Salmon Arm Arts Centre.
An exhibit now on display at the center, Sqlélten – Secwepemctsin for Salmon – explores the role of salmon in Indigenous culture, stories and food systems. The gallery describes it as “weaving a 15,000 year history with the creation of contemporary art”.
World-renowned artist and co-curator Tania Willard has brought together a diverse selection of contemporary and traditional works by Indigenous artists, including Csetkwe, Aaron Leon, Isha Jules, Hop You Haskett, Kenten Thomas, Gerry Thomas, Louis Thomas and students from Chief Atahm School.
As you enter the center you will be greeted by a magnificent rush laden smoking room built by Gerry and Louis Thomas with the help of Jadon (Beebo) Cox.
On opening day August 27, the center’s director/curator, Tracey Kutschker, spoke about the significance of the exhibit at this time.
“We stand on the stolen land of the Secwépemc Nation, and the Arts Council works towards goals of reparation and reconciliation through the arts. And that’s one of the ways we do it.
Neskonlith’s councilor and lore-keeper, Louis Thomas, welcomed him, explaining that it was about telling the story of his people.
“It’s always a pleasure to do something like this, to educate everyone on our old ways. For me it is important. Many lessons could be learned from this. And I think for me, we need to listen more to the elders of the past.
He said he listened to the Elder tapes while he relearned his language.
“Much of the knowledge that comes with language is important. It gives you a glimpse of what it was like before. I do a lot – and I’m ready to share, as our Secwépemc people always share. That’s why all of you are here, when you really think about it. We shared.”
He grew up with his grandmother and remembers her sharing stories of when the first settlers arrived in the area.
“They worked together and shared, clearing the land and feeding each other. She traded with local farmers. They didn’t have any jerky or fish or anything like that, so they swapped coffee, sugar, everything.
“And my grandmother had a shed there with jerky and salmon. She told them, “Go ahead and help each other, you know what you need. She wasn’t there with a calculator… It was the trust between them back then. So they went over there, left their coffee, their sugar, whatever they had to trade. It was the way they worked together many years ago and I see the demise of that. The sharing. Because once they learned to live off the land, to live here, it kind of stopped.
Thomas said settlers and Indigenous peoples need to start working together again because of what’s happening with climate change. “Things are going to be different now. We catch less salmon, forestry declines. It’s all downhill. And that’s what our Chiptekwilah (Secwépemc creation stories) are about. The starvation that follows if we keep taking and taking. Our salmon are disappearing, soon our trees are going to disappear, and the ensuing famine means that the people who live off this sort of thing end up suffering. Then it has a domino effect in the community.
“If they don’t get paid, the stores don’t get paid, the bills don’t get paid. It is therefore the famine of which our people speak.
He said he appreciated people who came to the gallery and at least tried to listen.
“Stories need to be told. We all have stories. Each of us. Even the trees, even the water, everything has a story to tell. Because they are all personified in our language, in our culture. Each and everything. If you listen carefully, you can hear them, what they tell us. So I’m glad we’re all here. I think lessons and learning is what our community should be.
Co-curator Tania Willard said she thinks Sqlélten is a great exhibit.
She talked about the different works and how there is an interaction and a dialogue between them. From the Csetkwe Salmon Ceremony, to the Hop You Haskett sculpture with Coyote reminiscent of salmon, to the smokehouse showing materials and knowledge related to the land.
And Isha Jule’s mural, with all the work being done against the pipeline and the impacts on salmon and the Secwépemc heartlands, and Aaron Leon’s artwork, “asking us what we’re doing…, how do we think us to these lands. ”
Willard mentioned that his own displayed work focuses on a return to feasting, rather than fasting or starvation, and the need to work together.
She also talked about the stories of Kenten Thomas, the Slxlxaya. And the drawings of the students of the Chief Atahm Secwepemctsin immersion school, an example of the future of salmon and families.
The exhibition runs until October 8, with a coffee break and artist talk on Thursday, September 15 at 2 p.m.
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