The long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Northern Secwépemc Cultural Centre took place on May 5 at the 108 Mile Ranch.
The event was organized by Irene Gilbert, president of the Northern Secwépemc Cultural Society (NSCS) and was attended by representatives of the five member bands from Canim Lake, Canoe Creek, Soda Creek, Williams Lake and Esk’etemc in addition to other community members.
“The event started with an opening prayer beautifully sung in Secwépemctsin by a large group of children from the Eliza Archie Memorial School at Canim Lake, under the direction of Antionette Archie and Elsie Archie. The beautiful prayer was followed by the drumming of a distinguished group of leaders and elders from our various communities that included Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars and former Canim Lake Band Chief Mike Archie,” said society secretary Graham Leslie in a newsletter on the event.
The groundbreaking ceremony was followed by speeches from Gilbert on behalf of the Canim Lake Band, Chief Sellars, Band Councillor Harold Duncan on behalf of the Stswecem’c/Xget’tem First Nation and Kerry Chelsea on behalf of the Esk’etemc First Nation.
The speakers addressed the dedication shown by the numerous individuals and band councils who over the years helped to bring the project to that moment, “as well as rejoicing in the opportunity to preserve the language, history and culture of the Northern Secwépemc peoples for the benefit of future generations.”
Other speakers included Elizabeth (Liz) Pete of the Canim Lake Band who was the first Northern Secwépemc member to be associated with the idea that gave birth to the entire project, Alana Dixon, longtime band administrator of the Canim Lake Band and a founding member of the society when it was incorporated in 2006 and by the society’s newest director and David Archie of the Stswecem’c/Xget’tem First Nation.
Leslie took the opportunity to acknowledge the significant contributions to the project that had been made by members of the Williams Lake First Nation and of the Xat’sull First Nation during the important early years of the project.
The occasion ended with a final drumming session.
Tsq’escenemc Kukip7 (Chief) Helen Henderson spoke about the importance of the centre at the recent Indigenous People’s Day Celebration at Cpelmétkwe Ranch (Bridge Creek Ranch).
It will be a good teaching tool for their history, she said. “You’ll see exhibits from Canim Lake, Soda Creek, Dog/Canoe Creek, Williams Lake First Nation - we know that the cultural centre will bring a lot of education for our neighbours and we know how critical it is for our students that come into 100 Mile every single day to go to school how important that relationship is and how they’re received on their territory.”
Henderson said education is going to help their experience with discrimination and racism by having cultural centres like this.
Plans for construction of the site have been in the works for close to 20 years and the lease of a two-acre parcel of land adjacent to the 108 Heritage Site was signed by the NSCS in 2014, following an invitation several years earlier by the 100 Mile House & District Historical Society.
The project activities include site servicing and development, building construction, furniture and equipment. The facility will house a welcome area, exhibit space, artifact display and storage, multi-purpose room, kitchen and washrooms.
Al Richmond, area G director for the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) said it has been a long time in getting the project to this point. “It’s taken a long time, mostly trying to get the funding to do the construction,” he said. “I was able to put the land package together for them from years ago so they could go ahead. It’s just taken that long to get the funding done.”
It was the determination of people like Irene Gilbert, Graham Leslie and Alana Dixon however who kept the project going over the years, he said. “I can go through a whole list of people that kept the project alive, kept talking about what it could mean to everyone.”