Semá:th Xo:tsa Transcript

The project is a children’s book — Semá:th Xo:tsa which is the Halkomelem word for Sumas Lake. Sumas Lake existed in this community until 1924. It was vital, culturally and spiritually, to the specifically the Semá:th people but the settler community struggled with its changing lakeshore; it would triple in size in the springtime eating up all of the farmland, often until early summer which impacted settler community’s ability to benefit from the land. So, beginning in 1919, they began a project to drain Sumas Lake and by 1924 the lake had indeed been drained.

Since that time the history has been celebratory — we’ve done this, we’ve conquered the environment, we’ve created farmland, we’re winners; but there was no regard given to the incredible impact ongoing impact to Indigenous peoples. So, the story is to reframe that history to include those cultural perspectives about the loss of the lake and to educate the community who really didn’t know — many people don’t know that they’re living on a lake bottom — to educate the community and to bring some awareness and empathy to the loss of this amount of people.

We are working with Semá:th First Nation, using their traditional use and occupancy study that captures family stories and community history and we will be using that to bring Indigenous history and culture to our reimagined Voices of the Valley permanent museum exhibition. So, we’re currently working with the co-author of that report and with the Semá:th First Nation to develop an exhibition that we will then offer back to the community for consultation and then that will be included in the new exhibition when it reopens in 2024.

There’s an effect when we can use original place names. There’s elements of connection between people in a land that exist only when we know their true names and in the Semá:th Xo:tsa book, we’ve incorporated a lot of place names and I’d be really excited to know that children, adults, Elders are using place names when they visit places. I think in the community we’re seeing a bit of a different effect than maybe I’d anticipated.

Sometimes, local landowners will approach with book in hand and say, “I never knew this about my property, I’m so fascinated at where we are at this point in history given where we’ve come from and what’s starting to happen with, I guess, unpredictable weather situations.” And then, of course, there’s the schools who have scooped up handfuls of books and begun teaching with them and I think there’s this kind of ripple effect that happens once young learners grow up with knowledge about where they’re living.

I think that we cannot have reconciliation without truth and part of that truth — an enormous part of that truth — is understanding Indigenous relationships to land and also understanding the systems that have disallowed us to learn in that way. Colonial systems have disrupted that knowledge sharing. I think that a project like this really allows us to return to a kind of intercultural sharing that perhaps happened a hundred years ago, 200 years ago, but we’ve really moved away from.

I think that sharing this knowledge and these histories and really being honest about the impact of colonial incursions and disruptions in the land, it’s the only way for us to move forward to think about or consider how we can respect Indigenous rights, title and sovereignty. Understanding the land is integral to our ability to work better together and to shape a healthier future.

If we can share this information through the younger generation and they can grow up and see the impacts that we can do — what we’re trying to do for our economy, how it’s impacting our environment, what do we have to weigh out and can we do this in a better manner with better teachings, with more understanding, more of an open heart and to Let’s Emo:t - One Heart, One Mind.