Last week, Culturally Committed Advisor ašli (ƛoʔos Nation) and I had the pleasure of delivering a Land Acknowledgment seminar to the Board of the British Columbia Chiropractic Association, hosted at the beautiful Fraser River Lodge, located on the territory of the Stó:lō Nation. In the days preceding the gathering, ašli and I began doing our research to learn whose territory we would be visiting and the history of the people here - we wanted to ensure we opened the circle in a good way by showing acknowledgement to and gratitude for the people and the land. However, it seemed someone else had done their research as well. Following their introduction of ašli and I, Executive Director Angie Knott and Director of Member Services, Katy Carson, launched into a beautiful, story-centred acknowledgment that shared history of the land that neither ašli not and I had not unearthed in our research. They gave us permission to share it with you here today.
"In Halq’eméylem, the language of the region, “Stó:lō” translates as “river”. The Stó:lō people, or “people of the river,” have always lived in the region, and their ancient stories, history, culture, teachings, and knowledge of the area were (and continue to be) passed down through the generations in an oral tradition.
I learned the story of Stone T'xwelátse. This story was shared on the Stó:lō Nation online library and archives and in several newspaper articles.
According to Stó:lō history, the stone holds the life force of their ancestor T'xwelátse, a man who lived in the distant past when the transformer Xa:ls was travelling through the land. T'xwelátse got into trouble for fighting with his wife, and Xa:ls turned him to stone. For generations, the stone stood outside the longhouses of his descendants, reminding them that they must learn to live together in a good way.
Then, within a period of four months in 1858, 30,000 miners flooded into British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, and life for the Sto:lo was never the same. White settlers followed, and the Sto:lo were confined to reserves. The stone T'xwelátse went missing after nearly 100 settlers from Washington Territory rode into Sto:lo territory in the middle of the night and lynched a 14-year-old Sto:lo boy, Louie Sam, for a crime he did not commit. The boy was from a village near the U.S. border, the same village where the stone T'xwelátse stood. Amid rumors of more violence, the village was soon deserted. Two white farmers found the stone near the village in 1892, and it was displayed in a dime store before the sons of some of Seattle’s prominent pioneer families acquired it for the museum they’d founded, which eventually became the Burke Museum.
The stone T'xwelátse was lost to the Stó:lō and might have remained so except for a Stó:lō social worker named Herb Joe.
As a young man, Joe had been given the traditional name of T'xwelátse. For years he sought out Elders and listened to their stories about his name. Then an archeologist told Joe his ancestral namesake was in the Burke. In 1992, Joe drove to Seattle and was overcome with emotion when he saw the stone. He reported back to his “Grandmothers,” elders of the tribe who charged him with bringing their ancestor home.
Joe met with museum staff and told them the Sto:lo wanted T'xwelátse back. It was the beginning of negotiations that would ultimately last 14 long years.
On Oct. 14, 2006, T'xwelátse travelled across the border to a Stó:lō longhouse, where 500 people rose to their feet in welcome. A meal was shared, the sacred sxwo:yxwey masks were danced, and the evening ended hours later with pounding drums and joyful song.
T'xwelátse now resides in his ancestral home with the Stó:lō people.
I encourage you to take the time to learn more about the Stó:lō Nation on whose lands we gather today and those Nations you reside. In affirming your personal commitment to unlearning and decolonization, it is important to celebrate the vibrant culture of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, as well as to learn and reflect upon the harms committed."
I raise my hands to Angie and Katie for doing the legwork of understanding a part of the history of the lands we were gathering on, and their continued, impassioned, intentional commitment to the process of cultural safety and decolonization. I think you are both beautiful humans, and I am humbled to share in this work with you.
Kim at Culturally Committed