strength & resilience through syilx culture

June 11, 2021

Content warning: The following story contains difficult subject matter, including a residential school experience. Please take care.

The first residential school in Canada, the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, opened in January of 1831.

After 165 years of operation, the Canadian Residential School System officially ended with the 1996 closure of the last federally-operated facility, located in Punnichy, Saskatchewan.

The effects of this system continue to be felt by its survivors and their descendants to this day.

lasting impacts

Like Indigenous Communities around the country, the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation experienced the devastating impacts of the Residential School System.

Many Syilx Children attended either the Kamloops Residential School or the St. Eugene’s Residential School in Cranbrook.

 

A traditional Syilx stick game at Head of the Lake / Nk’maplqs in 1972

 

Some Syilx Nation children attended day schools in their home communities. These day schools also had the explicit mandate, as was once said by Sir John A. MacDonald, was to “take the Indian out of the child”.

Day schools also left painful and oppressive impacts on Okanagan Nation communities, as well.

“You don’t know how it feels”

Rosie Jack, born at Head of the Lake in 1932, was interviewed by UBC’s LaVonne Kober in 2012. During the interview, Rosie recalled her experiences at the Kamloops Residential School, were she was sent with her siblings as a child of seven: “to be taken away from your family, your mom and papa… sent away in a big, big stock truck. You don’t know how it feels. You are just completely lost and then you got punished because you cried for your mom. It’s hard.”

When the children arrived at the Kamloops Residential School, their hair was cut short and they were assigned uniforms. Rosie painfully recalled the moment she had to give up the beautiful new dress and shoes her mother had bought her for the journey. Rosie was separated from her brothers, and forbidden to speak her native nsyilxcən. The children attended classes in the morning, and worked in the afternoon. Rosie spent one month carrying sad irons between the kitchen and the laundry room. 

resiliency through traditional culture

Rosie later returned to the school as an adult: “When I went in that school when I was a girl it was huge, it was so big. When I went back there a few years ago, it looked so small.” Despite the pain of losing her siblings and watching her mother succumb to grief, Rosie was resilient, and able to rediscover her culture through the raising of her nephew, Terry. She discussed traveling to powwows across Canada and the United States so that Terry could compete in sticking tournaments: “he has always done so well. He’s a real good sticking player.”

“We are still here. In fact, we are thriving”

Former Grand Chief and Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Stewart Philip states that “we can celebrate the fact that the Indian residential school was a complete and dismal failure. We are still here. In fact, we are thriving. Our languages are coming back through our children. Our songs and customs are coming back through our youth. Our traditions are being openly shared by our Elders. Our women are providing the leadership to ensure everything is done in a good way.” Philip adds that if people, like Rosie, did not have the “courage and resilience to resist, we would not be here today.” 

Gwyn Evans

 

cultivating Safe Spaces

online Workshop

 

Cultivating Safe Spaces

GVMA is honoured that Elaine Alec is able to run another session of the Cultivating Safe Spaces Online Workshop.

Friday, June 18, 2021, 1-2:30 PM

Cultivating Safe Spaces will be an online workshop led by Elaine Alec, a Syilx and Secwepemc community planner, author, political advisor, women’s advocate and teacher.

The Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop is recommended to those working in Not for Profit sectors, Community Planning, Public Health, Education, Arts and Culture, Tourism, and anyone interested in learning more about creating and cultivating safe spaces of respect and inclusion in our community.

community, advocacy, & safe spaces

Elaine Alec is a direct descendant of hereditary chiefs, Pelkamulaxw and Soorimpt.

For over two decades, Elaine Alec has been leading expert in Indigenous community planning, health advocacy and creating safe spaces utilizing Indigenous approaches and ceremony.

 

Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop Facilitator, Public Speaker, and Author, Elaine Alec

 

Bitter Root, or Spitlem in nsyilxcən language, is important to Syilx culture and people 

 

 June 18th workshop NOW FULL!

JOIN WAITLIST

 

We were honoured to have Elaine Alec visit, virtually, the Okanagan Online Book Club to discuss her book, Calling My Spirit back.

Click here learn more about Elaine Alec and her work.

Cultivating Safe Spaces registration information

Cultivating Safe Spaces will take place in an online workshop forum on Friday, June 4th, from 1-2:30 PM.

The workshop is recommended to those working in Not for Profit sectors, Community Planning, Public Health, Education, Arts and Culture, Tourism, and anyone interested in learning more about creating and cultivating safe spaces of respect and inclusion in our community.

Registration is open to all, with a maximum of 25 participants. The Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop fee is $30.00.

June 18th session is NOW FULL! Please contact us below to join the waitlist. 

 

JOIN WAITLIST!

 

 

recognition, resilience, resolve

May 17, 2021

May is Asian Heritage Month, and this year’s theme is “Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve.”

Vernon is home to hundreds of individuals of Pilipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Pakistani, Chinese, and Korean descent. The city also has a large Indo-Canadian population.

First Sikh Immigrants to Okanagan

The first immigrants from India began arriving in the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century; three Sikh men arrived in Rutland in 1909, and others followed in 1913.

“Little Evidence of Discrimination”

Most took up jobs in the lumber industry, with plans to eventually return to India. It was not until a few years later that some decided to settle their families permanently in the Valley.

By the 1970s and ‘80s, the East Indian population in Vernon had increased significantly. A 1976 report on the ethnic composition of the Okanagan Valley suggests that Vernon had “little evidence of discrimination.”

And yet, the report also states that “East Indians claim that their members have been beaten by white men for no apparent reason. They are afraid to take part in public events because of bad experiences.”  

 

A 2006 photo of the North Okanagan Sikh Temple and Gurdwara. The temple was built in Vernon by the North Okanagan Sikh Cultural Society in 1987

 

Traditional Indian clothing for rent or sale for attendees of Bollywood Bang charity event

“We Mainly Kept to Ourselves”

In 1997, a researcher interviewed several Indo-Canadian families living in Vernon, and found that 17 out of 20 of those interviews lived in one high-density neighbourhood, often in duplexes. Some of the reasons the families cited for living there were the lower cost of housing and the proximity to friends.

However, the researcher concluded that this collective housing was also a reaction to feelings of alienation from the larger community.

One interviewee suggested that “people looked at our turbans and the traditional outfits that our women wear with disgust and suspicion. We kept mainly to ourselves.”

Celebrating Indo Canadian Culture

In 2021, the treatment of Vernon’s Indo Canadian population has certainly improved, largely through efforts to introduce Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Indo Canadian culture to a new generation of people through public events like the Diwali Festival.

The wildly popular Bollywood Bang event, spearheaded by Vernon City Councillor, Dalvir Nahal, attracted hundreds of people and contributed thousands of dollars each year to local North Okanagan charity organizations.

In the 2020 provincial election, NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu faced horrific racism during her Vernon-Monashee MLA campaign, with her signs defaced by swastikas and misogynistic words. Despite this opposition, Ms. Sandu was elected in a clear statement by the majority of Vernon’s citizens against this kind of discrimination.

The resilience and resolve of MLA Sandu, Councillor Dalvir Nahal, Activist Min Sidhu, and the many other Indo-Canadian men and women who have come before them have contributed to Vernon’s recognition of this diverse cultural group, even if work remains yet to be done.

 

Gwyn Evans

doukhobors & freedomites

 

March 19, 2021

The arrival of Russian Doukhobors in Vernon and the Okanagan Valley is a story flush with tension and resilience.

Thousands of Doukhobors began arriving in Canada between 1899 and 1914, escaping oppression under the regime of Tsar Nicholas II.

The first group of Doukhobors settled four colonies in what would later become the province of Saskatchewan.

The Doukhobor homestead crisis of 1907 caused some of their number to leave Saskatchewan for British Columbia and by the 1930s, they reached the Okanagan Valley.

cultural & spiritual divide

Doukhobors were perceived as a a cheap source of labour during World War Two. Although their wages where higher in the Okanagan Valley than in the Kootenays, they were paid considerably less than English-speaking labourers.

The cultural and spiritual divide between the Doukhbobors and their British neighbors strained relationships between the two groups.

Several articles in the Vernon News from the early 20th-century describe the Doukhobors as “crazy,” “trouble,” and “fanatics.”

sons of Freedom

This reputation for fanaticism among the Doukhobors was due to the actions of a minority sect among them, the “Freedomites,” or “Sons of Freedom.”

The Freedomites espoused a return to the more traditional Russian-style of communal living and self-governance. 

 

Doukhobors in Okanagan fields
(Image credit: Vancouver Public Library. Photo No. 17115)

 

 

The foyer of Vernon’s Professional Building after a terrorist attack by Freedomites in 1958. The actions of this minority group contributed to generalized anti-Doukhobor sentiment.(GVMA)

 

 

During the 1950s, they became known for their public protests; they burned money, refused to send their children to public schools, and paraded nude through busy streets. In response, many Freedomite children were snatched by the Canadian government and placed in an internment camp in New Denver.

Although pacifism and anti-war sentiment is a fundamental component of the Doukhobor belief system, some Freedomites used violent means to advance their message and oppose the imprisonment of their children. In the early hours of August 14, 1958 a bomb went off in Vernon’s Professional Building on 31st Street, causing extensive damage but no injuries. The detonation coincided with attacks on post offices in Oliver and Osoyoos, and five male Freedomites were later arrested and charged.

statement of regret

The relationship between the federal government and the Doukohbors improved gradually over the next few decades, following investigations into the systematic abuse suffered by Doukhobor children, the establishment of the Expanded Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, and a 2004 “statement of regret” by the Government of B.C. Members of the Doukhobor community are still seeking an official apology.

Today, Vernon is home to more than 2,000 people of Russian descent.

Gwyn Evans

Coldstream Kate Kalamalka

 

March 5, 2021

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political successes of women. Even more importantly, perhaps, it is a chance to elevate the voices of those women whose achievements have been silenced, whether intentionally or not, by the passing of time. One such woman is Catherine Kalamalka.

Gaps in the Archives

An important caveat : the GVMA’s limited resources about this remarkable woman are indicative of a larger, national tendency for Indigenous Peoples, and especially Indigenous women, to be underrepresented in archives and settler-based museums.

Katherine’s descendants and wider Indigenous community could likely offer a much warmer, personal, and accurate portrayal of her life than the one that is presented here.

Daughter of Chief Kalamalka

According to “Q’sapi: A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families,” Catherine Kalamalka (sometimes spelled Katherine or Katrine in other sources) was born circa 1847 to Chief Cohastimene and Marie Kwentek.

She was the granddaughter of the famous Chief Kalamalka, for whom the Kalamalka Hotel was named. Later, it is believed Long Lake was renamed Kalamalka Lake in his honour.

 

Cosen’s Bay and Kalamalka Lake (GVMA)

 

Unfortunately, the museum does not have a photo of Coldstream Kate in their collection. This photo, however, does show her father, Chief Cohastimene (sometimes spelled Goastamana), in 1902. His daughter Catherine would have been in her fifties when this photo was taken.

“coldstream Kate”

Catherine was known as Coldstream Kate, and, according to a Vernon News article in 1926, was “the best known woman in the Okanagan Valley, if not in the province. She was famous for her beauty and kindly disposition.”

Following his arrival in the area, Catherine began a common-law partnership with Forbes George Vernon, for whom our City is named. Together, they had two children, Mary and Louisa. When Vernon was elected to the Provincial Legislature in 1875, he left Catherine and his daughters, and moved to Victoria. Two years later he married Katie Alma Branks of California.

a tower of strength

After Vernon’s departure, Catherine, then aged thirty-eight, married forty-two-year-old widower Louis Bercier from Washington. The couple farmed on a property at the Head of the Lake, and later settled near Whiteman’s Creek with Catherine’s daughter Louisa.

Catherine Kalamalka, then known as Mrs. Louis Bercier, passed away on February 9, 1926 at the age of about 80. Her obituary in theVernon News states that “with the passing of Mrs. Bercier, many a poor man and woman lost a good friend whose bright disposition was a tower of strength in difficult times.”

Gwyn Evans

Museum Begins Process of Reconciliation

 

October 13, 2020

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives (GVMA) is honoured to host the Cultural Safety Program, facilitated by local Indigenous Elders. The program provides training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, and anti-racism for partners in arts, culture, and heritage in the North Okanagan as they share positive information about Syilx People and participate in a process of reconciliation and future collaboration. 

Elders and program leaders, Christina “Chris” Marchand is a Sixties Scoop survivor, and Eric Mitchell the survivor of a residential school. Together, they created the Cultural Safety Program in 2008, initially for nursing students at UBCO. Since then, the training has expanded to students, professors and staff from all faculties – and now to partners from cultural organizations in the Greater Vernon area.

Marchand and Mitchell have dedicated their life’s work to educating non-Indigenous people about the impacts of racism and intergenerational trauma to begin the process of working toward reconciliation in the future. For their work, Marchand and Mitchell were honoured with honourary law degrees from UBCO in August 2020.

 

Chris Marchand

 

Eric Mitchell

Providing this training to staff and leaders of cultural organizations, “is an important – and necessary – step towards answering the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 57,” believes GVMA Executive Director, Steve Fleck.

Call to Action 57 calls for federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

The first group of North Okanagan cultural partners will begin the four day training in the GVMA’s Community Hall on Friday October 16, 2020.  To mark this historical step in cultural connection, diversity and reconciliation, Mayor Victor Cumming will join the GVMA and the Arts Council of the Okanagan in welcoming the Elders at a private ceremony at 10:30 AM. 

As Fleck notes, “As cultural partners, we hope to foster a safe and collaborative environment that results in deeper sharing, learning and understanding with the Syilx People in the Okanagan Territory.”

This program is would not be possible without support from the Regional District of North Okanagan and the BC Arts Council. For more information, please contact the Vernon Museum: mail@vernonmuseum.ca