A very special event took place Saturday, June 25th. It was the hottest day of the year so far. The place was Marine Peace Park. The occasion was the ceremony and unveiling of the first contemporary Secwépemc land marker.

Several tents were set up with white chairs. They were reserved for Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and the special guests that had made the project happen.

Adams Lake Indian Band Counsellor Councillor and project leader Shelley Witzky did an amazing job of hosting the event. She had so many people to thank.

Shelley explained that the project began when Elders were consulted about the Trans Canada Highway expansion project. Project leaders made sure that all the bands were represented. Elders were brought together to advise the Ministry of Highways. They identified culturally significant places.

As the Elders made the trek to Golden, someone remarked that the was no signage that explained visitors were in Secwépemulecw except for when the highway worked its way through individual reserves.

When he stood beside me for the ceremony, I asked Louis Thomas, what the suffix “ulecw” meant. Land, he replied. I am so lucky to Louis Thomas is the Cultural Advisor to the Salmon Arm Museum!

The Elders were right and someone was listening. There were no markers to identify the unceded traditional territory of the Secwépemc people.

After funding was secured, an Elders Advisory Committee was formed representing the Neskonlith, Splatsin, Adams Lake, and Little Shuswap Bands. Artists were contracted.

This was to be a reconciliation project. Rod Tomma, a Secwépemc artist, and his son Tilkotmes were paired with settler artist Eric Kutschker. They all attended the Elders meetings and some site visits to incorporate the teachings into their designs, then designed their portions of the design separately. Before work could begin, the sites had to be tested for archaeological evidence and studied by engineers.

The unveiling of the art pieces took place just before noon on Saturday. The site was smudged and Elder Bart Thomas blessed it and closed the ceremony that started almost a year ago, according to Secwépemc Protocol. Drummer and singer Tara Willard performed. Then the artists spoke. They interpreted their works and reminded those present of the wrongs caused to the Secwépemc people in the last four hundred years. Their message was hopeful – healing – and conciliatory.

The Marine Peace Park installation is part of phase one of the project. A second large landmark is destined for Chase Wharf. Six smaller landmark sculptures are intended for South Canoe Bluffs, Little Mountain, R.J. Haney Heritage Village, Skyview Rotary Lookout on Fly Hills, Tappen Bluffs, and Bastion Mountain Lookout.

I look forward to the installation of a Secwépemc landmark at R.J. Haney Heritage Village with its views to Mt. Ida, Bastion Mountain, Little Mountain and Fly Hills. If you squint, you just might be able to see the sculpture that was just unveiled at wharf!

Photo Credits:

Feature Image:  Concept drawing - Shuswap Trail Alliance

Photo 1: Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer

Photo 2: Martha Wickett- Salmon Arm Observer

Photo 3: Deborah Chapman - Salmon Arm Museum