Grand Chief Steven Point and Gwen Point on the site of the new Skowkale Longhouse. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

WATCH: Oldest longhouse in the Fraser Valley to be rebuilt in Chilliwack

Longhouse fundraising gala at Tzeachten Hall, May 5 puts spotlight on Indigenous art

The peeled logs are piled on the site of the oldest traditional longhouse in the Fraser Valley.

The logs will be used in construction of the new $1.3 million Skowkale Longhouse, which is about to get underway.

The old longhouse, built by the family decades ago, had been falling apart and was in need of replacement, said Steven Point, Grand Chief of the Sto:lo, and former B.C. Lieutenant-Governor.

The Skowkale longhouse on Chilliwack River Road was a beloved milestone of the Sto:lo Coast Salish people over the years, and was known far and wide.

“We figured it wasn’t safe after a while, so we had to start demolishing it and taking it apart,” said Grand Chief Point.

That necessitated taking the next steps toward the rebuilding of the longhouse, their sacred home.

Members of the Point Family, and Don Milo Society, have been working hard to raise $500,000 for the building project, and are planning a Longhouse Gala and Art Auction at Tzeachten Hall on Saturday, May 5.

“I have embarked on a unique project with my family that will enrich and contribute to our traditional way of life for me, my family, and the future of my community and Nation,” Point said.

A longhouse is where Indigenous culture is practised, revered and celebrated with ceremonies.

“The culture for Sto:lo people and for all First Nations in Canada, is crucial,” Point told The Progress. “It’s the central part of who we are.”

Sharing of their culture was outlawed in the late 1800s with anti-potlatch laws, and for a long time until the late 1950s, it meant they couldn’t dance, they couldn’t sing, and couldn’t participate in a parade.

“A lot of our culture was wiped out when our kids were forced to go to residential schools. Our language was lost. We have one fluent speaker left in Sto:lo territory.”

That is why the resurgence in culture of late is so vitally important.

“Our culture is saving our young people,” Point underlined. “It’s giving them an identity. It’s giving them a life. There’s nothing more important for a human being than to say: ‘This is who I am; this is where I come from.’

“We’re finding our young people are saving their lives by being reintroduced to their own culture.”

The longhouse will be a sacred home for the Skowkale, the Sto:lo people, and more.

“The longhouse becomes more than just a religious facility, it’s a community facility that accords our culture a place to be.”

The support has been tremendous to date from the Sto:lo, and their neighbours.

“We’re at the 100,000-dollar mark in our fundraiser,” Point said. “It’s going to happen. We’ve got a lot of good corporate sponsorship that has come forward to say, ‘This is a good project we want to help.’

“In this era of reconciliation, I think that is really what it’s about, people wanting to see First Nations being able to practise their culture again.”

The gala will feature a traditional feast, keynote speech by Grand Chief Steven Point, amazing door prizes and artwork from master Indigenous artists.

Donors can go direct to www.gofundme.com/skowkalelonghouse or more details at www.longhousegala.ca.

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The building of the Skowkale Longhouse is underway. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

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