A man who has played a prime role in building relationships in Salmon Arm between the Shuswap’s first people and those who settled in the region has been recognized provincially.
Louis Thomas, a Secwepemc knowledge keeper from the Neskonlith First Nation, is among 18 British Columbians to receive a Medal of Good Citizenship for their outstanding service and commitment to helping others in their communities. They were selected from more than 100 nominees.
A bio included with the province’s news release points out Thomas has been walking a path of reconciliation, relationship building and teaching in the Shuswap for more than 40 years.
Reached during a break between meetings – typical of his schedule, Thomas said he initially wasn’t going to accept the award.
“I’m not in it for the glory. I just do it as it’s something that needs to be done,” he said, adding he talked to a few people who told him he had been nominated by others. “I said I’ll do it then. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”
Building relationships is part of his duties as a councillor with the Neskonlith band, he said, “but they said I went over and above that.”
Along with building bridges, Thomas works to bring up the profile of his people.
“To provide a better understanding, when we talk about truth and reconciliation. I’ve been doing that for quite a few years.”
Asked if he thinks he’s made headway, he says, without hesitation, yes. The many friendships he’s made are evidence.
“When I look back at my life, it’s not about what I do but about the friendships I’ve created along the way.”
The bio points to his wide sphere of influence.
“His determination to share Secwepemc knowledge and culture with children throughout the region has helped shape school curriculum, art gallery exhibitions, library programs and writers festivals.
“The son of Dr. Mary Thomas, the famed Neskonlith elder and ethnobotanist, Thomas continues his mother’s legacy by staying involved with all aspects of life in the Shuswap… His efforts to preserve traditional Secwepemc food plants were the centerpiece of a recent exhibition exploring food sovereignty, security and sustainability.
“As a community leader, Thomas believes that all facets of community: housing, safe walking routes, food security, community building, restoration of the Salmon River delta, respect for the land and economic improvement are all connected.”
The bio points to his compassionate nature, humour, persistence and gentle persuasion, combined with his traditional knowledge and story telling, which have been invaluable as he helped create key organizations in the Shuswap.
Thomas was one of the trail stewards in a Salmon Arm Arts Centre exhibition and trail exploration project from 2014 to 2016.
“His impact was immense,” it states. “He became a leader and helped the arts centre navigate the project with a respect for traditional wisdom, language and story-telling.”