By Laura Stovel, Revelstoke Museum & Archives
Centuries ago, giant cedars, white pine and fir trees grew right down to the Columbia River. Porcupines frequented the valley bottom, salmon migrated from the Pacific to spawn and giant sturgeon were plentiful in the river depths. In those days, before small pox devastated populations along the river and valley trade routes, Aboriginal people lived, hunted, gathered and fished all along the Columbia River, including in Revelstoke.
The Sinixt people, in particular, stayed in the Big Eddy area in the fall and winter, where they traded with people from other nations who came through the Eagle Pass, over the Monashee Mountains or along the Columbia. At the time of contact, they were the main people who frequented the Revelstoke area, although people from other nations, especially the Secwepemc (Shuswap), also guided European travellers – often rescuing them – and hunted and fished in this area.
Now people of Revelstoke have a chance to hear some of the stories of this land from the perspective of people whose roots dig deep into the past. On the evening of June 20 and all day on June 21, National Aboriginal Day, storytellers from the four Aboriginal nations who claim Revelstoke as part of their traditional territory will share their stories and legends of the land around Revelstoke at the Revelstoke Museum and Archives and Centennial Park, near the worker’s memorial.
There will also be opportunities for locals of all ages and ethnicities to share their own stories of the land. They might come with a great bear or fish story or observations of the river, the mountain, the plants and animals as they have changed over time.
The event will begin with a storytelling workshop at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives on Friday evening, led by Metis storyteller and facilitator Jackie Cole. The following morning, Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English will give a talk and promote a discussion about the upcoming Aboriginal exhibit at the museum.
As a special treat at the opening ceremony, at 1 p.m. in Centennial Park, 10-year-old Jahmilah Seymour from the Colville Reservation in Washington, will sing Etta James’ At Last, which she, herself, translated into the Sinixt language. The ceremony will be followed by children’s storytelling activities in a tepee — the poles of which were peeled and prepared by Revelstoke youth. Children can tell their own stories, learn a traditional Aboriginal song, and watch and listen to puppetry and storytelling by Judy Garner Niehause from Kelowna.
Late in the afternoon, a bonfire will be built and there will be opportunities to roast bannock on a stick and eat home-made venison stew, which will be sold at the venue.
The evening features storytelling by visiting elders and local people, in the tepee, and maybe casually around the bonfire. The whole event provides a wonderful opportunity to see this land through different lenses and to celebrate the knowledge and contributions, both past and present, the people of Aboriginal ancestry who live among and around us.