Last Thursday, June 8, the Montebello Gallery at RJ Haney Heritage Village & Museum was filled with friendly faces supporting Indigenous art and sharing stories and laughter. It was the opening reception of an exhibition called cnéwelc: Follow a Trail, co-curated by Csetkwe Fortier and me. The exhibition showcased such brilliant artists as Daphne Odjig, Tania Willard, Manuel Axel Strain, Sean Stiller, and Csetkwe Fortier. Cedar boughs were laid in front of the artworks, as Fortier explained, as a physical presence of our plant relations and a reminder that we are all connected and of this earth.

Indeed, we are all connected to the land and to one another and in being so, are responsible for caretaking. As Louis Thomas pointed out in his words last week, when settlers arrived on these lands, they inherited the task of caretaking just as much as Indigenous Peoples who were already here.

Last week when Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered together in the museum, I wanted to bring nuance to the many meanings of where we were in space. The following is an excerpt from that acknowledgement.

HERE is many things.

HERE is first and foremost Secwépemul’ecw, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Secwépemc people. They have been, and continue to be, gentle and forward-thinking stewards of this land and all that live here. We’ve so much to learn from this concept.

HERE is a replica colonial village of a place called Salmon Arm. It is set in a historic time when governments, institutions, and other decision-makers actively worked to assimilate Secwépemc people into a culture not their own.

HERE is a place many of us live and raise our families and make art and go to the dentist and swim in the lake.

HERE is a museum built for and by the community to hold and share its memories - the tragic ones and the happy ones.

HERE can be many things at once. It takes courage to hold them all and I thank you for seeking to do so by being here and for doing so in your own lives.

Kukstemc to such a wise, beautiful, and gracious co-curator. Csetkwe’s vision, guidance and deep knowledge made this into the exhibition you see tonight. She was brave to say yes to curating an exhibition in a deeply colonial space and I am so grateful for her clear message of Indigenous resilience.

My deepest gratitude to the artists for sharing their visions, their hearts, and their worldviews. I’m grateful they trusted Csetkwe and wanted to infuse this space with a celebration of contemporary Indigenous culture.

Thank you to the community members who, literally or figuratively, let me come into their homes, into their art collections, to take Daphne Odjig artworks off the walls to hang on these walls for our audience to experience.

Thank you to Daphne Odjig and to Dr Mary Thomas for the significant and enduring trails that they carved for us.

Thank you to my curator mentors, Deborah Chapman, Tracey Kutschker, and Renée van der Avoird.

Last but certainly not least, thank you to our generous funders for making this exhibition possible: BC Arts Council, the City of Salmon Arm, the BC Community Gaming Grant Program, and a special thank you to the Shuswap Community Foundation, for their direct support of this project.