The story below is compiled from various sources including James Teit and Ron and Marianne Ignace.
Weyt-kp, le7 te sr7alt! Carl Archie ren skwewkst. Te Government Transition Advisor te S7elkstwen. Ell Te tkwenme7iple7ten te Tsqescen ri7. Le7 ren pupsmen es wiktelmen xwexweytep ne7elye ne cplulkwten te slexlexeyem ri7.
So I like to spend time reading about Secwepemc history. One of the things I came across was the name of Canim Lake in James Teit’s book called “The Shuswap” he wrote in 1909. In it he said he learned from the Canim Lake people that the name for the Canim Lake is “Kolila”. I got to thinking about where this came from and what it means.
We know it as “Canim” today which is actually a chinook word. It means canoe. The Chinook language is a trade language which was spoken by tribes on the west coast of North America. It has some really interesting ties to the Tsqescen people.
But I was really interested in the name Kolila and what that was all about. I learned that it is the name of a plant called hog fennel , biscuit root, or indian carrot. It’s an important staple food of interior people. Elder Nellie Taylor of Skeetchestn said that Qweqwile is used as a prenatal vitamin to make sure babies are born healthy. Other people use it as a fertility medicine. I’ve seen this plant grow on the shores of the Canim Lake.
But I thought to myself there has to be more meaning to it. Because Secwepemc people don’t often name an entire lake like this. We normally would name only a feature of the lake, for example, pespeqmimc, has baby swans is a place where the current McNeil Ranch is.
So I continued to investigate. And what I learned took me back to about 5,000 years. Qweqwile was one of the original transformers of the Secwepemc Nation creation stories. He originally lived in the Kamloops area but travelled throughout the Secwepemc territory. Qweqwile travelled passed the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers at Lytton.
There he met Qwiqwtqwet, which means smiles a lot, who is a Coast Salish transformer. There they had power contests which showed that Qweqwiles power was stronger than Qwiqwtqwet’s. To this day, these two transformers lay side by side in stone at Kumsheen near Lytton.
After their contests they parted ways and Qwiqwtqwet travelled up the Thompson and Qweqwile travelled south to N’taqt’aqten “the crossing” at Kanaka Bar where there is a place marker between the Nllkepemc and the Wutemtk, the Stolo people. Below this place, no qweqwile grows. Above, it gets more plentiful as you get into Secwepemc territory. Ron and Marianne Ignace have plotted where Qweqwile grows and overlayed it with Qweqwile’s travels and found that they are nearly identical.
After qweqwile reached the Stolo territory, he turned around and came back home via the Columbia River. Further maps of their travels show that Qweqwile’s travels circumscribe the interior salish tribal territories, with the Secwepemc Nation territory being at its core.
Eventually Qweqwile settled down and he had a baby with a young woman at Tskwikuy, the mouth of Scotch Creek. Their baby was named Qwle7il’t. Qwle7il’t eventually grew up to meet Tlli7sa and his brothers. Tlli7sa tried four times to kill Qwle7il’t but couldn’t because he had inherited great power from his father, Qweqwile. Qwle7il’t became the fourth brother in the story, Tlli7sa and his brothers.
So this is who our Lake is named after. It’s honouring one of the creators of the Secwepemc Nation. The archaeological record shows that about 5000 years ago, there was a phase called the Lehman phase. This is about when Secwepmc people started to become more like the Secwepemc we see now days. It’s because at the time, Stolo people migrated into the interior and began teaching us salish language and new methods to catch salmon and other fish. This is represented by the transformer, Qwiqwtqet, smiles a lot, who was Stolo and travelled up the Thompson River.
This is the story of the origin of Qweqwile, the Secwepemc name of Canim Lake. It’s one of the many reminders that we have a deep, rich, and long history. It also ties us to the Secwepemc Nation, and the rest of the Interior salish nations.
Today until 6 pm, the Canim Lake Band is holding a referendum to amend our custom election code. There are two questions.
For question one, I am voting for Option II, to allow for the Chief and Council to reside on or off reserve.
For question two, I am voting YES to allow the use of electronic voting through the OneFeather App.
I am voting for Option II because both options I and III are illegal. These residency requirements have been found to be DISCRIMINATORY. If the Band were sued, they would likely lose a court case. Why would we knowingly and willingly discriminate against our own families?
Option III is only a half measure but is still meant to keep power on-reserve. Courts have found half-measures like this to still be discriminatory. That’s because they create what is called a super-majority. If you do the math, there are two councillors who can reside off-reserve but FIVE (including Chief) who will still be required to live on-reserve. That means off-reserve councillors would be at a permanent disadvantage and can be outvoted at any time.
I believe that discriminating against our own family for power is not who we are nor who we aspire to be. I believe that we are generous and caring, and that our table is big enough for everyone. I work every day in my job to make sure that Tsq’escen’s voice is included. That voice is stronger when we raise it together. In Secwepemctsin, we say Nekwetsin, One Voice.
In addition, we have to move past our colonial history. Options I and III, not allowing councillors to leave the reserve, is an extension of the pass system! The pass system meant that Indians couldn’t leave the reserve without receiving a “pass” from the Indian Agent. It was meant to totally control the Indians. By voting for Option II, we have a chance to consciously choose to leave this past behind. To choose Secwepemc values of Family, Inclusiveness, and Generosity over the Indian Act, Discrimination, and Colonization.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I have been called a nothing but a dirty Indian, a seme7 (white person), an apple (someone who is red on the outside but white on the inside), a sell-out, a token Indian, a snob, a brown-noser, an asshole, and an imposter. I’ve been told I don’t have peoples interests at heart, that I don’t understand issues, that my work is not good enough, that I’m not cooperative, that I’m a rule breaker, that I’m lazy, that my expectations are totally unrealistic, that I’ve misrepresented my knowledge, experience, and achievements.
There was a time these things bothered me deeply. There was a time when these voices became the voice inside my head. I used to let this voice hold me back. Over the years, I’ve experienced many set-backs but more importantly I’ve experienced many more successes.
And I have to say that the quote from Marianne Williamson was with me every step of the way. When I met Laurie Sterritt, she quickly became an important mentor. And one of the first things she told me was to print this quote, and keep it with me or put it on my office wall. And so to this day, this quote is on my office wall.
I always tell myself “let your light shine”. And those aweful things people told me? That’s on them, that’s their reflection. I’ve been told by many that I don’t follow the rules very well. But if I followed the rules that society set out for me, I would stay quiet. I would be in a much different place. I would probably be what they told me I was, nothing but a stupid, drunk Indian. And I’m not. And nor is any person who lives on our reserve. But those are the stories we tell ourselves.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that not only do I try to let my light shine, but that there is a certain defiance of society in the things I do. I strongly dislike when people tell me who I am, but also what to do. Wear matching socks? For what?! Other than the fact that it’s probably easier to manufacture matching socks. I’ve also found over my work experience that in many ways the rules of society were not set up to benefit Indigenous people, and in many ways meant to disadvantage us. And guess what, if the rules were written, they can be re-written in a way that’s fair and balanced for Indigenous people.
Be who you want to be!
Have the Confidence to Win!
On June 13, 2013, I graduated from Thompson Rivers University with a degree in Economics. On June 17, I started my first real job.
My first job after my undergrad was at BMO as a Commercial Banker. Notwithstanding the fact that they refuse to respond meaningfully to an employees deeply racist act, they were an amazing first employer.
I completed a 9 month training program and was immediately placed on a small business portfolio in Cranbrook, BC. I met some amazing friends there and learned to fly fish. I deeply cherish my time in the small town.
One of the things that BMO taught us was to have the courage to win. Not only did it take the courage to act, but it took courage to know that we weren’t going to win every sale every time. But there were things we could do to increase our odds. There were behaviours we could engage in which brought us one step closer to winning. For example, follow up! Every time! We always said it would take at least three follow up conversations with potential clients to really understand their needs and be able to meet them. Another was to always be armed with information. We kept some pretty impressive metrics on our performance. For me, I knew that out of 10 sales opportunities I was working on, I would be able to bring one to completion. For example, if I had $3 million in loans in my sales pipeline, I would probably close $300,000 that month. We learned that over time we would improve this ratio but it was a powerful tool for continuous improvement.
I also learned two other very important concepts during my time at BMO. One of them was keep your word. The other was no surprises. Both of these concepts helped us navigate an often vague world of business. The ability to understand our clients needs and meet them was critical to our ability to operate as a business. It never occurred to me at the time but the money I was entrusted with was the livelihood of the business owners and all of the people who depended on them, including their employees. It was a huge responsibility and exercise in trust. Keeping your word was incredibly important, both within the bank and outside. During one of the first talks that I was able to have with my boss, and in many subsequent conversations, she reiterated that as a young professional, my word is often all I have until I have some time to get some deals under my belt. It was important that people could feel that they can rely on my word. If I said I was going to have a meeting at a certain time, keep it. If I said I was going to have a deal complete by a certain date, keep it. Deliver what you promise, when you say you’re going to do it.
Of course nothing was perfect. This is why we had no surprises. Sometimes deadlines would slip for whatever reason. If we knew this was going to happen, no surprises meant that we would call our client in a proactive manner and explain to them that we anticipate being a day or two later than we originally committed, and give them the actual reason why. Applying for loans in the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars is a stressful ordeal so proactive communication is essential. Another example is that if, in our analysis, we found that a client had some issues with finances in the past but may still be worthy of a loan, we would say so. For example, if a loan applicant had 3 subsequent bad years, we would flag it. “I notice that you have had three bad years in the financial statements provided. I can see that you’ve made changes to the way you run your business and I see that you have been in the same business for 20 years. These are mitigating factors to me. I will explain to my supervisor but we may require two things to sufficiently mitigate the risk before final approval. One is financial statements going back 5 years to show that you’ve had some profitable years. The next is that business is about the future so we may like to see some signed contracts for the next year. I can let you know in 3 days if we require these documents.” No surprises.
We were given extensive training in “client conversations”. It was our way of saying that we would have a conversation in which we could fully understand where the business is at and what their banking needs are. A full conversation would enable us to provide solutions which best meet the needs of a potential client. I remember expressing to my boss at one point that I was never taught how to negotiate. She asked “do you know how to have a client conversation? Because that’s everything that you need to know.” I did. Or at least I thought I did. I vividly remember my first ever attempted client conversation. At 8:30 am, our boss called the whole team into her office. We were having a cold call contest day. She was kicking us out of the office all day and we had to make cold calls.
I went with an account manager who I was working on a deal with and he taught me some things about making cold calls. I was feeling confident as it was near the end of my training program. I said I know an organization who is not a client and who I feel comfortable having this conversation with. I watched the senior account manager have these conversations all day so at the end of the day we stopped by my prospect.
The prospect was an old boss of mine who I knew was very supportive of my career. As we always did, me and the senior account manager went over how we thought the conversation would go. I practiced some lines I could use and some questions I could ask. After 15 minutes, we went in. I bothered my old boss for 5 minutes of his time and we had a conversation. It was going very well. We talked about what I was doing, what the organization was doing. We confirmed that he wasn’t an existing client. I started talking about banking and completely froze. I felt like such an inauthentic sales person. My face went red. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But as we practised in the car, I looked at my senior account manager who took over the conversation for a bit. After a couple of minutes I was able to regroup.
By the end of the conversation I was able to get financial statements and permission to contact the accountant directly in the future. It was a success! I even won the contest for the day with a solid prospect. I still have a few of the golf balls I won that day. I never realized it at the time, but at 23 years old I was negotiating with successful business people, some of them millionaires, and winning. I’m forever grateful for my boss and senior account manager at the time who coached me through a significant transition in my career and put me on solid footing.
Another significant career transition came when I was selected to sit on BC Hydro’s Strategic Aboriginal Engagement Committee. It was a very neat experience which gave me a tonne of insight into the $9 billion provincial corporation and how they approach relations with Indigenous people in the Province. It was my first Provincial level experience. It was also an experience which elevated me to be equal with many native leaders throughout the province whom I admired. Kim Baird, Lea McKenzie, Michelle Corfield, Anita McPhee, all powerful leaders and I sat at the table with them. It was actually pretty intimidating – these women had opinions and weren’t afraid to share them. Thankfully we had a listening ear at the time in BC Hydro.
We made dozens of specific recommendations, but two stood out to me. One of them was that BC Hydro would educate every single employee about Indigenous history and why they do business with Indigenous people the way they do, from the janitor to the CEO. One of the recommendations I’m very proud of is that BC Hydro begin to interact with the Indigenous Nations as nation bodies. Out of that recommendation came two agreements that I’m aware of, the Enduring Agreement with the Syilx Nation, and the Secwepemc-BC Hydro Protocol Agreement with the Secwepemc Nation. It changes the way that organizations behave. It also gave smaller communities a chance to have a seat at the table and be heard. I’m sure these agreements will have enduring benefits in the future.
Oh, btw you’re meeting with Fisheries Minister Dominic LaBlanc in Kelowna.
My experience at BC Hydro eventually led me to a role as the Columbia River Treaty Coordinator for the Secwepemc Nation. It was an incredible opportunity which I deeply cherish, short as my time there was. Baptism by fire if there ever was one. I remember walking into the office and was given a stack of reports and emails about a foot tall of everything the nation had regarding the Columbia River Treaty. I grabbed the stack and as I was getting up to go to my desk, my boss said “oh, by the way you have a meeting with Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, in two weeks.” Whaaattt!!! “Nathan Matthew will be there with you.” Oh, thank the creator! So much pressure off. Haha. Me to my boss, “so what should I do? Just create a briefing note for Nathan?” Boss, “sounds good!” So for the next two weeks I poured over all fo the documents we had and tried to find the story about salmon, to write it down in briefing note form. Nathan is a long-time leader within the Indigenous community. So when I met with him to go over the briefing note, he had some helpful input. He said we have three nations here and one hour of the ministers time. We should focus on one issue. Which issue do you think we should focus on?” I said that’s easy, restoration of salmon. That was my first meeting with a Minister since then. I’ve learned a few things since then.
The Columbia River Treaty is a Treaty signed between the United States and Canada to manage the Columbia River which begins in Secwepemc territory and eventually drains into the Pacific ocean near Portland, Oregon. The Treaty, being 50 years old, is up for renewal. There are over 65 dams on the Columbia River system; the Columbia River Basin flows through the Province of BC, 7 states, numerous cities and municipalities, and enables tens of billions of dollars in economic activity, including enabling companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to exist. It’s honestly a monolith. I had somewhat of a free reign as to what I would do. My job was to coordinate the Secwepemc Nation to be represented as a Nation at the negotiations somehow. Obviously being a kid from the rez I had no experience in negotiating international agreements of this impact. Nor frankly did any Indigenous Nation in Canada. Thankfully I wasn’t in it alone. The Ktunaxa and Syilx nations had people working on it, and so did 15 Tribes in the United States. I learned a lot from them and they had a lot of institutional knowledge from working on it for so long.
When I started to get a handle on the conversations that were being had about the topics covered by the Columbia River Treaty, I started to think about how I could contribute to this conversation. At 27 years old, I didn’t know much but I knew a few things. I knew that the Secwepemc Nation leaders and people needed to be heard. I knew how to hold complete conversations. As a young professional who struggles to be taken seriously, I knew there were steps we could take as a nation to be taken more seriously by everyone involved. I knew how to articulate a vision, develop strategic priorities and identify goals to get us there. I also knew that we would need a strong mandate from the communities and people to do this kind of work. I decided then that what I needed to do to enable strong Secwepemc representation was to develop strategic priorities and have those endorsed by community leadership and members. No small task.
The Photo above is the Columbia River as it enters Castlegar, BC.
Nobody had done work as the entire Secwepemc Nation before. However, over two separate gatherings, I was able to get feedback and approval from about 500 citizens of the Secwepemc Nation on the Strategic Priorities document. I’ll never forget the day that we had Minister Katrine Conroy present when our citizens present voted to continue with the direction we were on. Through subsequent discussions and negotiations we were able to get representation for the Secwepemc, Ktunaxa, and Syilx Nations at the Columbia River Treaty negotiating table. The Trump administration soon followed suit and allowed the members of the 15 US Tribes have representation at the US table. Without truly listening to our leadership and community members, and without truly believing in the power of unity within the Secwepemc Nation, and as the three Indigenous Nations, we wouldn’t have accomplished the precedent-setting representation. It changed the world. I’m no longer there but my brief time in that role was an experience I will never forget.
Which brings me to more recent times. In fall of 2019, I was torn apart. I was, at the same time, brought to my knees and flying higher than I had ever flown. On August 31, my dad passed away of cancer. I had experienced loss, but nothing like this. On September 1, I was on a plane to Brussels, Belgium for an international young diplomats forum. I was 1 of more than 1200 applicants from around the world selected to attend. I never thought I would have this type of opportunity. Ever. At the same time, I was living a nightmare and a dream. My heart was broken but bursting with happiness. I couldn’t see how I would get through that time. At tough times, I rely on my friends to lift me up. This time was no different. This time, I was able to meet incredible friends from around the world doing incredible things. Their friendships kept me going at the toughest time in my life. Dayton, Tristan, Julia, Anika, Morgan, Filip, Iris, and many more inspired me and gave me energy. I also had a lot of comfort from my dad. I found out on August 16ththat I was accepted to go on this trip. The first person I told was my dad. At this point, we both knew he was going to pass away. He told me “son, my mechanicing days are over.” When I told him I was going to Brussels, he had a big smile. It would be the last time I saw him smile before his condition got too painful. After a few moments of silence to take it all in, I said, “and no matter what happens with you, I’m going to go. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” He said “I know. You would never do anything differently. Go and have fun. My time is over. It’s your turn to live your life to the fullest now.”
With that, I went to Brussels. It was tough. It was scary. It was exciting. In addition to the many friends I met, we had some really cool experiences. We heard from speakers of the Flemish, Belgian, European parliaments. We heard from a general at NATO. We heard from and met Ambassadors from around the world. We visited palaces, parliament buildings, senate chambers, and so much more. I took a few days for myself after and went to Amsterdam and Paris. I saw the red light district, Ripleys Believe it or Not Museum, the Dutch Royal Palace, and even got to ride a bike around Amsterdam. Did you know that bikers in Amsterdam have the right of way over pedestrians and cars? Wild. I also went to Paris on the high speed train. The train was so fast that every time I saw something I wanted a picture of, it would be gone by the time I got my camera out. In paris I stayed beside the Royal Palace and Louvre. I caught an e-scooter to the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris and the Eiffel Tower. The Notre Dame was a childhood dream to go to ever since I watched Hunchback of Notre Dame. I had dinner on a patio below the Notre Dame with a glass of Bordeaux wine. The temperature was perfect and I had a view of the Notre Dame, including the gargoyles! Honestly I was so happy I cried. I never thought I would experience anything remotely amazing in my life. Then I scooted my way through alley and streets to make my way to the Eiffel Tower. I honestly didn’t know where I was going but every now and then, I could catch a glimpse of the tower. It was probably a bit dangerous and foolish, but with my scooter I was invincible. In 15 minutes I made it to the Eiffel Tower and watched it lit up in all of its glory for about an hour until my butt got sore. Seriously, it was such a cool experience that I will never forget.
The friends I met in Europe are located around the world doing incredible things. They are changing the world. I go into the new decade confident that together we have the power to change the world.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last decade it’s to follow your instinct. Don’t let others limit your imagination and your potential. I’ve been told that I need to manage my expectations, that I’m unrealistic, and that the “world doesn’t work that way.” I’ve even been told to make sure my socks match! But who cares. Changing the world isn’t limited to 9-5, whether you’re in the office or not, or whether you fill your time sheets out correctly. Let people live in their own small world that they’ve created for themselves, but don’t let it limit yours.
Let your light shine!
January 1, 2013, I attended a New Years party at Dr. Alan Shavers’ place. At the time he was the President of TRU. There were some amazing leaders from Kamloops there who are always full of great stories and the panoramic view of town was simply incredible. I remember standing by the window taking in the view when Alan came over to chat. These chats were always full of lessons and sometimes nerdy stories. But this one we talked about New Years and that a theme was transformation. As always we got to talking about what these things meant for the TRU community. And on that day, we focussed on the need to create a transformative educational experience for our students. What this meant in practical terms was making sure that we put actual resources as a University toward providing opportunities for students to experience leadership. I remember the very first time I met Alan. He was newly announced as the incoming President of TRU. He showed up to the Indigenous Gathering Place with Nathan Matthew. He wanted an opportunity to meet with Indigenous students. I asked him very point blank why doesn’t the University provide any funding to Indigenous student groups. His response was equally blunt. He said “This year, the University had the following speakers: Phil Fontaine, Ed John, and Stewart Phillip. How many students attended those events?” In a room of about 40 students, TWO students put up their hands! My heart sank, my face went red. Alan continued, “so you see, it’s difficult for the University to justify putting these resources forward when there is so little participation by Indigenous students. What we would require is for events to be put on and some record of participation by Indigenous students.” I was furious. It was the absolute worst foot to get off on with a new University President. The words stung. Not because of the way they were delivered, he was gentle, but because of their truth. Those words burned into my memory. The next year, as President of the First Nations’ Student Society, I worked with the Students’ Union Aboriginal Rep to put together $4000 to host our own events. That year, we were able to host TRU’s first Pow Wow, Aboriginal Awareness Week, and the Story Tellers’ Gala. All of the events were highly successful with over 1000 participants. Since then they have grown with significant support from the University. The year after that I was elected to the Board of Governors at TRU where I was able to advocate for Indigenous students at the highest level of the University. The first time I ran for the Board of Governors, I lost the election. The second time, I was acclaimed, or so I thought. I remember on the day an article came out in Secwepemc News about the great news, I received an email that there was going to be an election for Board of Governors. My heart sank. They sent me an email clearly stating I was acclaimed. All emails to the University went unanswered. Finally, I retained an incredible Secwepemc Lawyer, Katherine Hensel to intervene on my behalf. Her letter was responded to right away and the University said that they had made a mistake and a paper nomination sat on a desk unacknowledged. When they found it, they decided to rectify it by having an election without notifying me. I was pretty angry but after discussions with Katherine, we decided that the appropriate thing to do was to run the election and win. I wouldn’t be satisfied any other way.
As I had mentioned earlier, the Ch’nook Scholars was significantly influential in my University experience. In my first year as a Ch’nook Scholar, we participated in a Business Case competition in Prince George. My team won first. One of the stated reasons by the judges was that our analysis was complete, our recommendations sound, and that we were the only team to develop a business case for our solution, which meant financial projections. In short, the case was that a company had wanted to develop a mine but the local First Nation was proposing costly environmental mitigation measures. I was able to calculate that the local First Nation measure could in fact be accommodated and that the mine would remain significantly profitable over the life cycle, even if the price of coal dropped by half. The experience gave me confidence that Economics was indeed the right path, if a lonely one, because I learned that the ability to quantify social issues would be a valuable skill for Indigenous communities. It meant have a framework for problem solving and solution building to complex social problems. For me Economics brings a level of clarity in an otherwise very chaotic world. As I’ve moved further through the world I’ve learned that the ability to build a business case for policy and legal issues is a rare skill in a business world that puts a lot of emphasis on hard skills like doing math. It was also then that I knew in working with my team, we were leaders among incredible leaders. When I graduated University I was nominated as the Valedictorian for the Ch’nook Scholars. I remember the day I was going to go down for the ceremonies, my started on my car died. At the time I had no hydro, no cell phone, no internet and so no way to contact anyone who might be able to help. I didn’t get to make my speech which sucked, but that’s what happens when you’re a poor student.
Another incredible opportunity came about because of the network I had built through Ch’nook Scholars. In the Summer of 2012 I worked on Canada’s first textbook on the first subject of Indigenous business. It remains the only comprehensive academic book on the subject. In March 2012, Hafiz Rahman from TRU heard of a forum being hosted by the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business in Edmonton. He put my name forward and I was invited to attend. The Purdy Crawford Chair was interested in hearing from Indigenous students across the country on their experiences in business school. I remember how sweaty my hands felt when I raised them to make the comment that we should have a textbook on the subject of Indigenous business. I knew just enough back then through reading about property rights that the rules set up under the Indian Act created a very different regulatory environment for businesses located on Indian reserves. I also remember the voice of colonialism whispering in my ear “who are Indigenous people to deserve their own special book?” But thankfully I had also recently met Laurie Sterritt and she shared with me a quote by Marianne Williamson, she told me to print it and keep it with me. And I told the voice in my head, who are we not to deserve a book about us? It’s overdue. My feedback impressed Dr. Keith Brown enough that he invited me to Nova Scotia to work on the textbook over the summer. I took up the offer. Dr. Keith Brown told me when I arrived that he wanted it to be my best summer student experience ever. It sure was. I made some incredible friends and had a chance to see Unamaki (Cape Breton Island). I spent the summer putting together the Table of Contents for the textbook and creating a report justifying why I thought the book should be created that way. The textbook was published in May 2015.
Riding in my indian van.
While I was a student at TRU, I noticed how the International students could all speak a different language. And that they spoke their languages publicly and without shame. I decided that I would relearn to speak my own language, Secwepemctsin. I learned it in Elementary but by the time highschool came the curriculum was not challenging enough. I remember at the time that I had a lot of anxiety about the decision because on the rez there is a lot of shame about speaking our own language. People still say “holy, real deep indian” or they snicker when people aren’t able to pronounce certain sounds. I’m glad I made the decision though because being Secwepemc provides me with a deep sense of purpose and power to go about the world. I decided that the colonial legacy wouldn’t stop me from knowing and speaking my own language.
So, at 6 pm and 8 pm three nights a week, I would open the slide door of my burgundy red Ford Aerostar van, grab a spare battery and jumper cables, pop the hood, and give myself a jump and head to the Tkemlups reserve for Secwepemctsin classes. I used to jump myself with a spare battery I took from my dads and my moms jumper cables I “stole” from her. I did this for about 4 months because I couldn’t afford to buy a new battery for $100. Anyway, Flora Sampson and Janice Billy were my teachers for the evening classes and they were very good. I was able to pick up the language and I was provided with materials to learn from home. That summer I also worked as a summer student at the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society. It was such a valuable experience.
I worked on the First Voices Secwepemctsin app which is a digital repository of words and clips on how to pronounce them. For two weeks I listened to Secwepemctsin clips and gave them an English and Secwepemctsin file name. The app is available for download and I use it nearly every day. I also had the opportunity to take immersion classes with Mona Jules and Rhona Bowe in medicine making. Becoming fluent in Secwepemctsin has been healing and our language provides a priceless source of guidance and knowledge for much of the work that I’ve undertaken in the last few years.
T’ult in Secwepemctsin is the transformation of energy into matter.
Back in 2010 I was still just a kid from the rez. I didn’t know anything about the world. There’s still a lot to learn about the world. But back then, I woke up at 6:30 am made a pot of coffee in the morning like I did every day. I would check my class and meeting schedule with a really great calendar app that I had. I used to catch transit so I would try to pack as light as possible. A textbook is about 20lbs so I would pick my favourite class for the day and only take that book. I used to go to Boot Camp in between classes so I also had to pack my gym gear. I would eat a banana for breakfast and would pack a lunch. If I was lucky or planning ahead, my sandwich would be bannock with roast beef. If I wasn’t in a cooking mood, it would be wonderbread and bologna. Lol. The kind that gets stuck to the roof of your mouth with every bite. It was the time of the Vancouver Olympics and I remember watching the opening ceremonies and being inspired by how much First Nations participation there was. Back at home we had a group of community members who carried the Olympic flame so that was cool.
One thing that really had an impact one me was the 2008/2009 recession. I remember being a 1stand 2ndyear business student taking Principles of Micro and Macro Economics and every day in the news hearing about recession, bail outs, credit crunch. I used to think that I had never ever heard of these things on the rez and really wanted to understand them. I’ve always watched politics and I remember at the time that when Stephen Harper, an economist, prorogued parliament, it stood out to me as a brilliant tactic. It was an exciting time because the arguments during the elections at the time featured a lot of discussion about macro economics and it was really exciting to be able to go to class and talk about what happened or what was said. In 2010 I declared Economics as my major for years 3 and 4. It was an exclusive club as there were only 9 students in my economics cohort in the business school. What I didn’t know was that it would put me in an even more exclusive club as one of very few Indigenous people in the country who studied economics.
Throughout my later years in University, I became involved in the Ch’nook Scholars as an Indigenous business student. It was an incredible opportunity to meet indigenous business students from across the province. I still get a laugh about the one day in advance of our first conference at UBC, the program sent out an email saying that dress code is business. Me being a kid from the rez, I didn’t know what business dress is! I still wore jeans and a t-shirt at the time. I splurged and bought a $20 button down shirt from Sears instead of the $10 one from Walmart and was able to find a really nice red striped tie on sale. A day before we left I was in marketing class and my instructor was talking about presenting ourselves as professionals. I had my tie with me and so after class I asked her to show me how to tie a tie. She told me to watch youtube if I needed a reminder, which I did. I also remember the feeling of being on the plane with my friends who were also attending from TRU, watching the deep blue and orange sun set from above the clouds for the first time ever, and saying “I never thought I would be important enough for someone to pay for a flight for me to go to a meeting.”
Trump administration contends that Tribes are a race rather than separate governments.
This sounds absurd. But actually Canada’s Rights and Recognition Framework gives Canada the authority to do exactly that in this country. In a recently released overview of the Rights and Recognition Framework, Canada states that legislation “could enable Canada to recognize a Nation or other Collective as an entity that has the authority to govern itself.” Further, it would oblige the Minister to develop “further measures to support the process by which Canada recognizes Indigenous Nations and Collectives.”
Through an act of Parliament, Canada would give itself the authority to recognize Indigenous Nations. It kind of sounds great. Indigenous Nations will finally be recognized!
In reality, it’s no different than Canada giving itself the authority to determine who is and who is not a Status Indian. We all know how Canada behaves when it gives itself power over Indians. It outlawed women who “married out” from passing their status to their children. It’s kind of like someone accidently saw that sign about dwindling moose populations and thought it would apply to Indians as well. When the courts told Justin Trudeau’s government to end discrimination in the Indian Act’s status provisions, the government argued that it would be too expensive to stop discriminating against native women. The discrimination essentially created a class of second rate Indians – a race of people whom the government owed nothing to. Even the Senate, the Chamber of Sober Second Thought, told the government to end the discrimination. The Ministers said that the elected Parliament shouldn’t be told what to do by an unelected chamber. Trump said it – but Trudeau tried to do it first.
Worse though is what happened to the Sinixt. Canada declared them extinct in 1956. By the neatest coincidence, Canada began engineering studies to construct massive hydro electric dams on the Columbia River in the Sinixt territory that same year. These dams would provide power to aluminum smelters which located here at the same time. It seems Canada already possesses the ability to both recognize and declare extinct entire nations!
Can you imagine? Canada, now the owner of the Transmountain pipeline, decides that a pipeline is in the national interest. But the pipeline construction is stopped because Canada needs to do a better job of consulting the Secwepemc Nation. Well, how about the Secwepemc Nation is no longer recognized? And maybe everyone married out and there are no longer any Secwepemc alive. And maybe they’re extinct? Or maybe the Nation’s status card just expired and they’re not entitled to consultations until they renew it and obtain the new secure status card from the INAC office in Vancouver? But the status card won’t arrive for 4 months due to a perpetual backlog and by then the pipeline will already be built? The Rights of an Indigenous Nation can be intact – but they can’t be exercised if the Nation is not recognized.
There are some serious questions that have already been answered elsewhere. The existence of Aboriginal Rights and Title are “sui generis”. They are self-generating. They have existed since time-immemorial. They don’t need legislation to exist and certainly don’t exist at the pleasure of the crown. Our Rights and Title are already recognized and affirmed by the Constitution and Articles 3 and 5 of UNDRIP. Canada has set up a false choice without giving us back our land.
Furthermore, Canada’s overview states that it will mandate the minister to work with Nations on the process to recognize Indigenous Nations. But we know that he with the gold makes the rules. In Canada’s proposed Fiscal policy framework, Canada already determined that a “Recognized Indigenous Nation” will be a Nation that has signed either a modern treaty, a self-government agreement, or a comprehensive land claim which includes a self-government component. There is actually no choice.
Canada giving itself the authority to choose for us who is and is not a Nation is out of line with the Constitution and UNDRIP.
Unanswered questions remain. Will our Nations now require giant status cards to prove we exist? Will our Nations’ Status Cards expire too? Which pieces of ID will our Nations need when we send in an application for our new Status Card? Will the Nation status card enable it to travel across the border?
When will Canada declare your Nation extinct?
I was recently asked to write down my thoughts on what is missing from communications surrounding the Transmountain Pipeline and First Nations. I think we are failing to harness the power of storytelling. Further, these views represent myself only. I am not authorized to speak on behalf of any organization. Everything contained in this blog is already in the public sphere and is without prejudice.
Story telling is critical to Salish cultures. Having worked on complex projects requiring significant community engagement, I believe that the most pressing challenge with the Project is controlling the narrative. There has been significant coverage of the Project in the Province of BC with no clear message. If there is a narrative that has emerged from First Nations in the Fraser Valley, it is that “the Project is being imposed on us; therefore, we are the victims.” The world is watching and this is not a flattering image to present. Instead, there is now an opportunity to engage citizens and leadership to not only craft a winning narrative, but define specific and comprehensive requests which would leverage Aboriginal Rights and Title to obtain significant concessions.
Based on my experience, crafting a powerful narrative is critical to driving subsequent discourse surrounding the Project. I have worked with several organizations where the story that is told is as important as what actually happens. The first was a campaign in the 2015 federal election. More recently, I worked on the international Columbia River Treaty negotiations on behalf of the Secwepemc Nation. Each of these experienced significant success as a result of the story we told.
“Sunny Ways” and “Hope and Hard Work” were the successful maxims in the Federal election. In the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding, we were able to increase voter percentage from just over 5% to 30%. It was the only increase of the three major parties in that riding. We were also able to achieve this with minimal resources. While the other two major parties spent in the neighbourhood of $150,000, we spent $38,000. There is no question that the infrastructure supporting the work that needs to be done is important. However, in theory, each party could have identical machinations, policies, and quantity of volunteers; this wouldn’t account for differences in votes. The story is what matters. More importantly, a story which can be distilled into a succinct, memorable phrase. In Canada, “Sunny Ways” inspired Canadians to overwhelmingly vote for the Liberal Party of Canada. In the United States, “Make America Great Again” resonated with the voting public there. In 3 seconds or less, these phrases inspire a positive image in the general public’s mind.
The pithiness of these stories tells us a lot about the leaders who developed them. It’s no small feat to distill such a message. It requires leadership with a clear vision, emotional intelligence, excellent listening, and courage. When you hear these phrases, you know that the leader has put a great deal of thought into the type of country they would like to lead. You know that they took the time to truly understand the general public and what they require from a leader. You know that they had the courage to present these concepts and champion them. First Nations are looking for this type of leadership on the Project. They are looking for a leader who understands them and can connect. They are looking for an organization that has the capabilities to deliver on a leader’s vision.
Another project I worked on was the Columbia River Treaty. These are ongoing and highly complex international negotiations between the United States and Canada. My role was to coordinate the advocacy of the Secwepemc Nation’s interests. The challenge seemed insurmountable at first. Firstly, there is no formal body which has been given authority to make decisions on behalf of the entire Secwepemc Nation which consists of 17 Bands. This is an artifact of the Indian Act in an era of reconciliation. Secondly, there is very little precedent for Indigenous participation in international negotiations.
When we talk about having a Nation to Nation relationship with the Federal government, it’s important that we organize ourselves as a Nation. It is also important that we understand what our interests are. I clearly remember having a large stack of reports being put on my desk on my first day in this role. A lot of it was technical information related to the operation of dams and the control of the river flows. Some of it was correspondence among various organizations representing First Nations’ interests in the ongoing negotiations.
After sifting through the hundreds of pages, several themes began to emerge. First Nations were never engaged in the original negotiation of the treaty, and engagement in ongoing operations was and is minimal. First Nations were significantly concerned about the environmental impacts to the Columbia River Basin (basin), including the extirpation of salmon. There has been no economic compensation to the First Nations in the basin. And finally, there were many different people representing various aspects of the Secwepemc Nation.
Because of the lack of coordination, the story of the Secwepemc Nation was not being told effectively in the ongoing Columbia River Treaty discussions. With any complex issues, it’s important to prioritize or risk getting caught up in the minutia. With this in mind, I developed four strategic priorities which I felt gave enough direction to move forward on some issues. The first priority was to speak with one Secwepemc voice. This would give power to the issues our people were bringing forth. The second was to get a seat at the table. Next is consideration for the natural function of the river, a one river approach. And finally, compensation for the historic and ongoing impacts to the Secwepemc way of life. Achievement of each priority would enable work on the next priority.
Check out what the Tribal leaders had to say about the Columbia River Treaty here: vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-indigenous-nations-must-be-included-in-the-re-negotiation-of-the-columbia-river-treaty
Our stories as Indigenous peoples are powerful. It’s time we take our power back and tell our own story. This can only be achieved through listening and having the courage to win.
Today’s blog is about a fascinating area. In Secwepemc, it’s called Sqlewulucw or “Beaver Country”. Nearby it’s also known as Ncencéceńctem or “Stony Hollow”. Both of these are part of the territory of what was once a Secwepemc band known as Pelltsqwmus which is a place that has Sucker fish.
Now days, people know Sqlewulucw and Ncencéceńctem as the “Painted Chasm”. Painted Chasm is located just north of Clinton, BC. Secwepemc people have told stories about this area since the beginning of time. This particular story is estimated to be about 5,000 years old. For most Canadians, that’s before the Ancient Egyptians developed writing.
As told by Ignace, “At a time in the ancient past, according to the stories, Coyote was still doing his work, other “transformers” appeared in the country. Some of them were foreigners from the Coast, others were from the core of Secwepemc country and travelled outwards. If we understand them as not merely “mythical” but also historical accounts, they give us further clues about events and processes from a time around 5,000 years ago.”
The story of Tlli7sa and his Brothers is an epic story of four brothers who transformed this part of the world and made it habitable for Secwepemc people. There were four brothers: Tlli7sa, Tqemnelst, Kwelalst, and Qwele7ilt.
The four boys initially lived with their mother at the mouth of Scotch Creek near the outlet of Shuswap Lake. They travelled north from there up towards Kamloops, and eventually to Bonaparte. During their travels they encountered a woman who kills men with rattle snakes defeated a powerful rabbit who has razor sharp hind legs which it uses to kill intruders.
As summarized by Ignace, the brothers eventually “carry on up the Bonaparte River Valley, reaching a place near the 59 Mile post on the Cariboo wagon road, now Highway 97, called Sqlewulucw, a deep hollow surrounded by cliffs. Here, Tlli7sa makes the hollows and shapes in the cliffs during his search for a powerful beaver, whom he then kills and turns into slew7uwi, the ordinary beaver, that is, the animal that gives itself to people with its skin and its meat. At a place by a creek not far from there called Ncencéceńctem, they defeat a powerful marmot who has a house in the rock, transforming it into the common marmot, valued for is flesh and skin.”
Eventually the brothers end up at a place called “Qwiqwiyqwiyt” or Blue All Over which is known now days as High Bar Canyon. Before they get there though, they came to Pavilion Lake where a powerful skunk lived and killed people. When the brothers killed the skunk by emptying its scent bag into the lake, they caused the deep blue colour of Pavilion Lake, thus named it Npetkwe7ten or “farting lake”.
Tlli7sa and his brothers are most closely associated with the boundaries and places of the Secwepemc. However, this story does not fully encompass the entirety of Secwepemc territory.
As mentioned, this story touches the boundary of a community which was known as Pelltsqwmus or a place that has sucker fish. The community would have been centred around a lake called Young Lake just east of the Painted Chasm and was the headwaters of the Bonaparte River.
Unfortunately, the community was decimated during the small pox epidemic of 1862. The remaining survivors joined with the villages of Canim Lake Band.
It is said that as much as 60% of the First Nation population in British Columbia was killed in the epidemic of 1862. This was one of the unlucky ones. Irvine Johnson, from Esket, recounted in 2012 that he was helping fix their road and accidentally dug up a small pox grave. He said “those pit houses were just demolished, crumbled in on themselves, and that became their burial site.”
He said at first they buried their loved ones in a traditional way but as the epidemic grew, they were thrown into mass graves and their pit houses burned. At the end, there was no one left to bury the dead.
Countless more were lost on the trails to their salvation as they made their way to join with other communities.
As Secwepemc people alive today, we are the survivors of this trauma. Our ancestors also survived flu, measles, scarlet fever, and eventually the residential schools. We are stronger than we acknowledge.
It’s important to acknowledge this incredible loss to our nation. To acknowledge the existence of this community and that their strength and resilience still resides within our community.
The other week I spent some time picking some wild onions at Sqlewulucw which I dehydrated. A small act of remembrance, and defiance.
Le Q7es te Stseptekwle - The Time of the Ancient Transformers
Ron and Marianne Ignace
BC First Nations Mourn Smallpox Epidemic (2012)
This week’s post is pretty long. I’m starting by posting the story of the man who married Se7etwen. This story has a direct connection to my last blog. The crane in the photo was spotted in the McNeil Ranch fields when took the photo. The story below is as James Teit recorded it and is from Tsq’escen’ territory. There are maps and discussion following the story.
The Man Who Married Se7etwen
A lad was badly treated by the people, who always scolded him, gave him the worst food to eat and old things to wear. He felt much grieved because of his treatment, and left his village. He wandered south along the Fraser River, remained a little while in each village that he passed, and thus reached the Thompson River, where he remained some time. Then he continued his journey, passed beyond Columbia River, and eventually arrived in the country of the Se7etwen. There he came to many houses on a large grassy plain. He entered the first house, which was occupied by a very old man and his grand-daughter. They asked him where he had come from, and what he was doing there. He answered “I am Shuswap. My country is far away to the north. I have wandered south to see the world.” The old man said, “I know your country. We rest there every year going north.” The young woman asked him to be her husband: so he staid with her all winter.
One day in the early spring she said to him, “in ten days all the people will make ready for their journey north. You will go with us and see your own country.” The lad was glad to hear this. One morning the chiefs blew some bone whistles, and all the people put on their crane dresses, and blew their whistles in imitation of the cries of the cranes. They flapped their wings, and then ascended and descended into the air. They they acted for four days, morning and evening. The woman said to her husband,” the people are no practising and making ready for the journey north.” She had done the same as the other people. Then the man said to himself, “this numerous people., who houses cover the plain, are, after all, the cranes that I used to see pass my home every spring. I shall be deserted. They will all soon leave here, my wife among the rest.” His wife knew his thoughts and said, “we shall not leave you. We shall take you along.”
On the following morning all the birds came, and each plucked a feather out of its body and out of one wing, and gave it to him. His wife fastened them to his body, and he was now able to fly. She also gave him a whistle made from the win-bone of the crane. For two days they trained themselves, flying up and down above the houses, an don the next morning they flew away on their northern journey. The man, his wife, and father-in-law followed a little behind the others. This is the reason why three birds are always seen flying behind the others.
When they reached the Shuswap country, the cranes asked the young man where his home was. He named a place near Horse Lake, where his people were living at that time. The crane people alighted and camped near there that night. This is the reason why the cranes always rest there on the passage north or south.
His wife said, “go to your friends’ camp and visit them, but return at daybreak.” He spent the night there, told all his adventures, and heard all the news that they had to tell. At daylight he left, saying “I am now going to join my wife.” The people followed him, and saw him fly away with the cranes, who were going fat north to their breeding grounds.
In the fall of the year, on their way back, they camped again near the people; and the man visited his friends, taking with him his wife and children. On the following morning they all flew away south, to the land of the cranes. Thus the man visited his friends for many years on his passages north and south, until his relatives had all died, when he came no more. He stayed in the land of the Cranes, and became as one of them. He had many children.
The Cranes. I really like this story because it gives a lot of attention to details. The Sandhill cranes nest in many places throughout the Cariboo. The ones in this particular story nest at Horse Lake which is a 3 minute drive from the Village of 100 Mile House. Horse Lake is connected directly to Canim Lake through the Bridge Creek which flows from Bridge Lake and eventually meanders into Canim Lake. There were historically villages at Horse Lake.
The cranes here migrate from as far north as Alaska and the Yukon and spend winters in California’s Central Valley. They can fly as much as 650 km’s in a day. They live up to 33 years. They are the oldest living species of bird on the planet with fossils found in Nebraska dating 10 million years ago! The man in the story went beyond the Columbia River and eventually arrived at a large grassy plain – I imagine this is describing the Central Valley. I think it’s so cool that our people knew about this when the story was recorded over 100 years ago. This also means we have relatives in California, or as our people at Tsq’escen’ knew it, the land of the cranes!
The map above is provided by the Province of British Columbia from a study they did on Sandhill Cranes. It shows the general migration routs of the cranes.
The map below is courtesy of visitcalifornia.com. It outlines California's central valley.
Speqmic is the Secwepemc word for swan. I chose this to be my first Secwepemc Geographic blog because there seem to be a lot of natural connections. First, the photograph I took of swans was about a year ago during the coldest time of the year. Second, it’s my moms favourite bird. And lastly, there are a lot of Secwepemc connections to the swan, the least of which is that my community’s principal village was called “pellspeqmic”.
The pair of swans in the photograph are Trumpeter swans. The picture was taken on the Thompson River where the North and South Thompson rivers meet. Trumpeter swans were once on track to extinction back in the day, but have since made a come back. There are now estimated to be up to 400 Trumpeter swans on the South Thompson which is remarkable considering they were once extirpated from this region of BC. It speaks to the resilience of our land and wildlife. There are also Tundra swans on the South Thompson. They are seemingly identical except that Tundra swans have a small yellow dot on their beak below their eyes. There are estimated to be up to 600 Tundra swans. They spend their winter on the South Thompson because it provides excellent habitat. It’s relatively ice free and there are a lot of plants available to eat because it’s a slow moving river. Cottonwood and shrub riparian habitat are very important to their survival. Riparian habitat is being lost to bank erosion due to high speed boating on the river.
As I mentioned earlier, Pellspeqmic is the name of Canim Lake Band’s historic principle village. Teit says it was located approximately 6 miles from the head of Canim Lake on the south side. This would place it near the McNeil Ranch and Roserim Beach. Teit also states that the Lake was originally called Kolila. I’m not sure what it means, but there was a Chief of Tkemlups who had a similar name, Kwolila. He was the Chief who negotiated the Fish Lake Accord between the Secwepemc and Okanagan Nations. Teit says there were three principle villages, one of which is near where the current reserve is, and would actually be where the Canim Lake Ranch currently is. There was a third one Teit writes as Pelta’laxen. I’m not sure what this means. The current name, Canim Lake, comes from the Chinook jargon word for Canoe.
This blog is based off of some of my personal adventures – by no means authoritative or academic. In the future it will be a mix of some of the places I’ve traveled, a bit about the land/animals, and a bit about our history. I would love to know your thoughts. Did you like this blog? Is there something you would like me to write about?
Carl has been actively involved in re-imagining nation building. He has travelled extensively throughout Secwepemc territory and is fluent in Secwepemctsin.