For millennia, Indigenous people have been passing down their knowledge through the art of storytelling: these stories helped shape languages and allowed elders to share their faith, history, and culture with younger generations. But with the prevalence of English in so many First Nations communities, these traditional connections are being lost as knowledge-holders pass away without sharing the full breadth of their wisdom. However, one tribe from the Fraser Valley is working hard to document its history before it’s too late and the art of storytelling is gone forever.
In their mother tongue, Halq’eméylem, Ts’elxwéyeqw means, “as far as you can go upriver paddling a canoe before having to switch to using a pole,” which makes sense when considering their past. Historically part of the Stó:lo community who made their home in the valley along the banks of the Fraser River, the Ts’elxwéyeqw people settled along the shores of a neighbouring lake and river that were eventually given anglicized versions of their name: Chilliwack.
For nearly two decades, the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe, which comprises seven local indigenous communities, has been working diligently to preserve its history in a manner that can be shared with each other and neighbours. And on Jan. 27, their latest effort: a book titled, “Being Ts’elxwéyeqw: First Peoples’ Voices and History from the Chilliwack-Fraser Valley, British Columbia,” will be hitting the shelves.
David Jimmie, President of the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe and Chief of the Squiala First Nation, oversaw the book’s production and says the 303-page book is full of more than 700 images and stories from past and present elders and community members that have been passed along for hundreds of years.
“This was a great opportunity to capture some of the knowledge and stories about what it means to be Ts’elxwéyeqw,” he says. There are stories “about what’s important to our people: hunting, gathering, fishing, our relationship with environment, spirituality, connectiveness and well-being. There are even stories of the diversion of the Chilliwack river and settler occupation,” adds Jimmie.
“It’s not your typical chronologically-ordered book,” explains Jimmie. “When our elders would pass along information and share their knowledge, a lot of times … they’d not tell you exactly what it meant. It was the responsibility of those being told the story to figure that out.
“This book is done in a similar fashion,” continues Jimmie. It’s up to the reader to read and understand what’s between the book’s covers “because we still have a strong presence of culture in Chilliwack, (and) a strong presence of spiritual people that are very much active in what’s been handed down for generations.”
The Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe’s traditional territory spread from what’s now known as Yarrow to east of Chilliwack Lake. And as such, what it means to be Ts’elxwéyeqw has various meanings.
“It changes for everybody,” says Jimmie. “For some it’s about a focus on family: where they come from, what’s their lineage; for others, it’s their connection to the land and water; and others may focus on their spirituality. It’s a little bit of everything.”
In today’s age of Truth and Reconciliation, the importance of literary pieces such as this cannot be overstated. “We’re evolving as people, not just the Ts’elxwéyeqw, but the greater community,” Jimmie states.
“Part of that growing is … understanding how we move forward together, and just (this) little bit of knowledge may help (explain) the history of (our) people,” because you have to know where somebody’s been to know where they’re going.
“We all live side by side and are working together in different ways to try and find common ways to make things better,” Jimmie adds. “I think this is one of those things that may help.”
“Being Ts’elxwéyeqw: First Peoples’ Voices and History from the Chilliwack-Fraser Valley, British Columbia” was originally scheduled to launch on Friday, Jan. 26, however, it’s been rescheduled for Feb. 23, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at the Stó:lō Resource Centre. The book has been available for purchase at the Stó:lo gift shop since Jan. 27, 2018.