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Secwépemc sculpture ceremony spurs reflection on wildfires, climate and loss

Third in series of landmark sculptures unveiled at R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum
In the foreground, the Písell sculpture, which means ‘trout’ in Secwepemctsin, was created from rose granite. In the background, a metal sculpture includes viewing portals so people can look through and see significant locations and their Secwépemc names. (Kayleigh Seibel Photography)

By Martha Wickett

Special to the Observer

As water bombers flew intermittently across the sky, a ceremony to unveil the third in a series of 16 Secwépemc Landmark sculptures was held.

It took place at R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum, perhaps fittingly next to a former forest-fire lookout .

Central for speakers at the unveiling were the devastating wildfires, along with impassioned pleas to take care of the Earth.

Like the first landmark unveiled at Marine Peace Park in Salmon Arm and the second in Chase Memorial Park, the beautiful Písell sculpture, which means ‘trout’ in Secwepemctsin, was created from rose granite.

A metal sculpture complete with viewing portals is part of the artistry, so people can look through and see significant locations and their Secwépemc names.

The landmark was sculpted by Skwlāx artisan Shayne D. Hunt and David Jacob Harder as part of the Secwépemc Landmarks Project.

The unveiling and dedication on Sept. 16 was also a fundraiser for wildfire evacuees, with donations to the Shuswap Community Foundation Emergency Response Fund encouraged.

Splatsin Elder Julianna Alexander, who gave the opening prayer in the Secwépemc language, implored everyone to do their part to caretake the land.

She pointed to over-logging and how water is dependent on trees and the climate cycle. All living things exist in a cycle and the cycles are broken, she said.

“Without water we’re nothing. And if we continue to do what we’re doing, it will look like the Moon.

“So we’re all held responsible how we caretake the land and how we prevent damage to water and all our trees and plants and medicines.

“I need to say that because right now we’re real stressed and traumatized with all the fire. We’re not the only ones affected by it,” she told those gathered.

Bart Thomas, Neskonlith, also said caretaking is up to everybody.

“Anybody who comes here to take, we’ve got to give something back to make sure it stays that way.”

Thomas gathered Elders for a song prior to the unveiling, while smudging was completed.

He encouraged people to visit the sacred place with their “best energies and best thoughts.”

Artisan Shayne D. Hunt explained that when he designs a sculpture, he waits for the rock to tell him what it wants. This one was about transformation.

He said quietly he was one of the people who lost their home in the wildfire. “That fire came in and just took everything. So I say a lot of prayers for everybody that lost.

“I think the fire itself is a way of cleansing, renewal, having faith again in our culture, in our traditions.”

Libby Chisolm, project coordinator, MC’d in place of Adams Lake councillor Shelley Witske, project lead, who was recovering following a vehicle accident.

Chisholm expressed much appreciation for all the Elders who made the Secwépemc Landmarks Project what it is. She said it began a few years ago with an Elders meeting of the four surrounding First Nations where they shared their histories.

The placement of the landmarks and the story boards accompanying them are all guided by Elders.

Chisholm noted that the landmark signage is interactive, able to play the voices of Elders and recordings of the late Dr. Mary Thomas.

Elder Lucy William has been translating for the landmark signage and Donna Antoine has helped with translations.

Trina Antoine, project lead for Splatsin, said in the past her people managed the forests and would conduct controlled burns. Now all the fuel is sitting on the bottom of the forest floors.

She, too, urged people to respect the water, the land, the animals.

If people don’t take care of Mother Earth, the Earth will give up on people, she said.

“And everything will be cleansed. And she will do it. She will cleanse this land. Make it whole again for her.”

Read more: ‘Spirit of reconciliation’: Landmark at Salmon Arm wharf creates awareness of Secwépemc presence

Read more: ‘We’ll be here forever:’ Landmark sculpture embodies Secwépemc presence in Chase area
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