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!

 

 

archival fonds – where stories live on…

 

October 23. 2020

What are archival “fonds”?

From the UBC library: The word “fonds” is used to describe most archival collections in Canada and also in many European and Latin American countries.  Fonds simply means the documents in any media or format created or received by a person or an organization in the course of their personal or professional activities.  For example, the “Jane Smith fonds” would refer to the records created and received by Jane Smith.

Read the wikipedia article for  the term “fonds.”

The Greater Vernon Archives has some gems in the archival fonds entrusted to us to store, care for and preserve. 

Secrets that followed people to their graves remain in the pages of diaries tucked into shelves. Family rivalries and reunification play out in letters left for us to interpret.

The early sketches of artists who went on to renown in their own lifetime, or after their death, trace their early development in the notebooks they left behind.

Every archival collection will hold its own surprises. At GVMA it’s  hand signed letter from Einstein, notes on fittings from Coco Chanel, Luis Vuitton himself sending a reminder on an invoice. All in a small but mighty little archive in Vernon, BC.

What can you discover in your hometown archive?

 

Pages from the sketch book of naturalist and artist, Allan Brooks from the Allan Brooks fonds held at GVMA

 

Signed letter from Albert Einstein in response to a letter from Sveva Caetani, held in the Sveva Caetani fonds at GVMA

 

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

 

woman of the century: Vernon’s first tomboy

 

October 2, 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, so this is the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped the city. 

She is among the most celebrated daughters of Vernon. She was the first female president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, a recipient of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, and, at least in her opinion, Vernon’s first tomboy.    

Hilda Cryderman was born in Vernon on May 10, 1904. As a young woman, she worked as a teacher, principal, and guidance counsellor. She was also a fantastic athlete, excelling in ice hockey, basketball, and baseball (hence her self-designation as Vernon’s first tomboy). 

 

 

Hilda Cryderman receives the Order of Canada from Governor General Jeanne Sauve in 1985

 

During the Second World War, Cryderman served as an education counsellor to the Women’s Forces in the Pacific Command. She was stationed in Vancouver, and her responsibility was to aid servicewomen who wanted to further their education or training in preparation for the return to civilian life.

This was an important role, since, in Cryderman’s own words, this was “the first step toward post-war rehabilitation.”

After the war, she returned to her teaching position in Vernon.

Throughout her life, she held executive roles in more than 30 organisations, including the Vernon Business and Professional Women’s Club – in fact, the club named her “Woman of the Century” in 1982.  

As chairman of the Okanagan Valley Teachers’ Association Salary Committee, Hilda obtained equal pay for rural and urban teachers, and male and female teachers, a first in Canada. In 1953, while chairman of a special committee of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, Hilda succeeded in persuading Premier W.A.C. Bennett to introduce the Equal Pay Act.

In 1954, she was named the first female president of the B.C. Teachers Federation. In 1972, she was made an honorary member of the Native Women’s Association of Canada for her assistance in their fight for equality, and wore the beaded medallion she received with the greatest honour.

Cryderman was recognized for her many achievements in October 1985, when she received the Order of Canada from Governor General Jeanne Sauvé, awarded to those “with the highest degree of merit, and an outstanding level of talent and service, and an exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity.”

This was truly a well-derserved designation for a woman who had dedicated her life to empowering the disenfranchised.  

Gwyn Evans

a young lady’s education

 

September 18, 2020

She was barely over five feet tall, but what Miss Maud Le Gallais lacked in stature, she made up for in determination.

As a young lady, Miss Le Gallais was educated in England at a boarding school for girls and she arrived in Vernon in 1912 bent on starting a similar institution here. By the sounds of it, she didn’t face much opposition. At the time, Vernon was inhabited by many European families, and since boarding schools were an “Old Country” tradition, Miss Le Gallais’ project was welcomed.  

St. Michael’s Boarding School for Girls opened in 1914, in a large house on East Hill (2000 37th Avenue). The four upstairs bedrooms were converted into dormatories, and the downstairs rooms into classrooms.

 

 

St. Michael’s School for Girls with surrounding gardens in 1927

The first “St. Michaelites” were local girls between the ages of 8 and 18, but as the school’s reputation grew, so too did its catchment area. By 1917, it was bursting at the seams, and a second residence on the opposite side of the street was added. At the same time, the school was incorportaed as “The Bishop’s School of the Diocese of Kootenay.”

The education at St. Michael’s had an obvious English flavour; like in boarding schools across the Atlantic, instruction covered the “three R’s,” plus English and Canadian history, geography, botany, French, Latin, scripture, gymnastics, drawing, dancing, music, and needlework. The students were taught to be perfect ladies—at least by the standards of the early 20th century. In the first issue of the school’s magazine, Headmistress Le Gallais recorded her wishes for her pupils, saying “I have visions of reading in future magazines of old St. Michaelites taking high places in all the learned professions … and of their making the most of all the oppurtunities that have at last come to women, to make the world a better place for their use of those oppurtunities.”

By the time the school’s enrollment grew to 55 students, the two residences were so over capacity that a proper school building was well-needed. In 1921, a structure three and a half stories high was built on five acres of land overlooking what is now Polson Mall.

This new building was a significant upgrade. In addition to classrooms and living quarters, the school now also had a library/music room, an impressive kitchen, and a gym which doubled as an auditorium for dramatic presentations and assemblies.

The girl’s enjoyed a number of fun activities during their time at St. Michael’s, from picnics with the local girl guides, to toboganning in the Winter, to weekend hikes in the summer, to cricket games, to visits from the boys at the Vernon Preperatory School. 

Miss Le Gallais retired in 1932, and following a decline in enrollment during the Great Depression, the school closed its doors five years later. In 1978, the school building was torn down and replaced by a townhouse development aptly named St. Michael’s Court.

Gwyn Evans

nice ride!

 

September 11, 2020

What would it have been like to ride a school bus in 1924? Well, it certainly would not have involved the bright yellow paint and cracking vinyl seats we’re used to today. In fact, Vernon’s first bus was mostly made out of wood.

As more families began to settle in the Okanagan Landing and Greater Vernon areas, a form of transportation was needed to bring children to school. Fred Downer stepped up to the plate, and built the first school bus on a Ford Model T chassis in 1924, perhaps inspired by the design of the Armstrong school bus which had been built by Joe Glaicar a few years earlier (reported to be the first in Canada!).

 

 

The children who rode Vernon’s first school bus circa 1925. The bus’ builder, Fred Downer, is standing on the far right.

 

Like the one in Armstrong, Downer’s bus had wooden walls, but included screen windows, while Glaicar’s had canvas curtains that could be let down or rolled up as needed. Exhaust pipes ran down the centre of the floor to keep the bus warm during the winter. Apparently, the smell of schorched rubber was common in these early school buses, as the students would put their feet on the pipes to warm up, and melt their school shoes in the process, undoutedbly to the great chagrin of their mothers.

The wooden walls and lack of insulation earned these early buses the nick name of “chicken coops.”

Regardless, Vernon’s first bus was well-used from the get go. More than 40 students were driven to school on Downer’s bus by driver Ed Cooke during the 1924/1925 school year. The bus ride offered a chance to visit with friends and sing a song or two.

Gwyn Evans