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Transfer of Secwépemc artifacts brings joy to families

‘It was a beautiful thing and that’s why it’s so right.’

By Martha Wickett


The past and present reunited recently, providing satisfaction and joy for two families in the Shuswap.

Decades ago, Percy Ruth, grandfather to Robin Ruth who is co-owner of Pedro’s Farm Market, was good friends with Harry Tomma, father of Leo Tomma and his sisters Patsy, Virginia and Molly.

The Tommas, who are Secwépemc, have ties to the region dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. The Tommas live up the Little River – across the river from what was the Squilax store until it burned down in the August 2023 wildfires.

In the early 1900s, Harry gave his friend Percy permission to dig around the kekulis, or pit houses, to find artifacts.

“I think I was with Mom and Dad when they were in the field there…when I was little,” recalled Virginia. “They were helping the Ruths; the Ruths were one of our friends digging the artifacts.”

Robin explained that Percy had a cone shed for collecting cones and conifer seeds for his business. That’s where Harry and Percy got to know each other.

“They really got along; they liked each other and respected each other,” said Robin of the two men.

When Leo mentioned the artifacts to the Ruths recently, Robin said he was pleased.

“I’ve had the honour and privilege, my family, to enjoy them, care for them, and honour them for the last 100 years. For them to go home is wonderful as far as we’re concerned.”

The artifacts will be inventoried by archaeologists, where the tool typology will be categorized and they’ll be dated. The artifacts will be displayed at Quaaout Lodge once it’s rebuilt.

Robin said his family is excited and happy they will be there.

“They’re truly at home now, and that’s all we want,” he remarked. “We’re very happy and comfortable. It’s just a wonderful thing.”

Among the smoothly carved cultural treasures are small arrowheads, likely for hunting muskrats or squirrels.

Leo said he didn’t know until he saw them that they could be made so small.

“It’s a lost art.”

There are ceremonial pipes, weights for fishing nets, tools for preparing hides, carving tools, a mortar and pestle, a serpent, a frog, small snares, and a cylinder resembling a rolling pin, possibly for grinding corn.

A few of the carvings are jade, which Leo explained would be because the Secwépemc people relied on trade and travel to augment the salmon.

The Tomma siblings all expressed happiness at the reunion.

Receiving the artifacts means so much, said Virginia.

“I was excited, half crying when it all came home. Our culture came back to us.”

For Robin, it was powerful to witness.

“The looks in their eyes and their faces, they were like kids at Christmas. It was a beautiful thing and that’s why it’s so right.

Read more: Skwlāx te Secwepemcúlecw: ‘We celebrate what we have, not what we lost’

Read more: Former Little Shuswap Lake Band thriving despite loss of Quaaout Lodge accommodation