VIDEO: Sepass poems brought to life with CD launch in Chilliwack
A Chilliwack area chief who lived a century ago was the last of the great Coast Salish orators.
Chief William (Billy) Sepass of Skowkale would captivate listeners with incredible poetry that he would recite from memory, containing the very essence of Coast Salish culture.
Now that poetry by Chief Sepass, whose traditional name was K’HHalserten, is being brought to life with a new CD, an audio recording voiced by Gabriel George, grandson of Chief Dan George.
A special CD launch for the Sepass poetry is set for Saturday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m. at Skowkale Hall on Chilliwack River Road.
Chief Sepass wrote 16 poems, Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth, the Ancient Singer, which run the gamut from tragedy, and jealousy, to love, hatred, and loyalty — all unfolding within the realm of traditional Coast Salish culture.
Sepass took on the monumental task of committing his poems to paper in 1911, with the assistance of his friend, Sophia White.
It was ambitious, especially into English, a language that was not his mother tongue. The arduous translation from Halq'méylem took four years, and was undertaken when the chief feared that primacy of the oral tradition was ending.
But he had embarked on the project to fulfill a solemn promise he made that the poems would be published in a book one day, so that "Indians would remember their greatness for all time."
Chief Sepass died years later in 1943 at the age of 98, but the 16 poems remain.
Gabriel George of Tsleil-Waututh, grandson of the famous Chief Dan George, took on the oral recording challenge, rejoicing in his mandate to portray the voice of Chief K’HHalserten on the CD.
"His task was to re-tell these legends in a way that, like Chief K’HHalserten’s narratives, would again captivate his audience," according to the launch organizers.
It took considerable "talent and a heartfelt understanding" of the poetry, as well as passion and respect for the remarkable cultural history, on the part of Gabriel George, as the one recording the poems, to pull it off with conviction.
The CD will be introduced by Si:yam Shane Pointe of Musqueam, who embarks on a journey explaining how the poems came to be translated from the original indigenous language.
The recording ends with the words of Steven Point, former Skowkale Chief, and former B.C. Lieutenant-Governor, who tried to convey the significance by explaining that the poems "contain the essence" of Coast Salish traditional beliefs and spiritual values, Xwelmexw.
The official launch of the CD of the Sepass Poems, Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth, the Ancient Singer, starts at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 25, 2017 at the Skowkale Community Hall, 7686 Chilliwack River Road. The Sepass family and Longhouse Publishing will host an engaging seated program with light refreshments, songs and drumming, CDs on hand, as well as the 2009 publication of the poems. Everyone welcome.