Semá:th Xó:tsa: Sts’ólemeqwelh Sxó:tsa or Great Gramma’s Lake a children’s book written by the Reach Gallery Museum in collaboration with Stó:l partners, tells the story of Sumas Lake’s draining from an Indigenous perspective. The book reveals the history and essence of culture, the very spirit of the Sumas people, reflected in their life between the Sumas and Vedder mountains, on the banks of the vast lake located between them (Silver et al., 2020). Semá:th Xo:tsa or Sumas Lake, teeming with natural wealth, was vital to the Séma:th people, Sumas First Nation, and neighboring Indigenous groups’ cultural, spiritual, and physical well-being. Between 1919 and 1924, settlers in the area petitioned the government to drain the lake, boosting the region’s agricultural capability at the expense of the Stó:l people.
Early farmyards in the Sumas Lake area were planned as “dry-point” farms on narrow hills created by previous lake shorelines to avoid recurrent flooding of neighboring lowlands. Likewise, the BC Electric Railway line hugged the lake’s south coast. Following the deadly 1894 Fraser basin flood, BC Electric engineer Fred Sinclair devised a plan to drain the lake to provide more productive farmland for immigrants. Such events were devastating for a people whose whole life, history, culture, and the same way of thinking and spirit are in its land. The children’s book tells an adult story of the struggle for their land, the way of life of proud people. Generations of Sumas people have lived in harmony with the lake’s cycles, the birds, the fish, and even mosquitoes that frequented the area. Everyone had a tale to tell and essential roles in this cycle of life and existence in their native land, around the sacred lake.
The manifestation of love for one’s land consists in love for one’s ancestors, as it is stated in the story. The native land plays the significant role of a strong line of memory, from which the pride and strength of people are formed. This message, in my opinion, is the meaning of the work, that our history, culture and traditions are closely connected with our land. Language, behavior, customs and simple everyday behavioral patterns are tiny particles of something more significant, the self-consciousness of the people. All this comes from the homeland of the people, making it robust, ancient, and proud.
It is also interesting that if the earth creates and maintains culture and traditions, the identity of the people, then the language of the community continues to develop these qualities. Tongue simultaneously keeps the memory of ancestors, their way of life and thinking, and gives young people the opportunity to become part of this memory. All these tremendous and proud ideas can be seen in a book that conveys the memory of the ancestors of the people living between two mountains, on the shores of an ancient lake.
Oral narratives have played a significant role in my learning process in childhood as well. Primarily, I have been told stories about my ancestors by parents. They have described to me the various lives of people before me, who had completely different fates, which eventually have led to me being a person living in my current state. I have learned from these stories that every choice has consequences: for a specific person that makes them, for their close ones, and even for generations of people in the future. Hence, I can use some of these stories to demonstrate to my students the chains of events that compose the intricacies of our existence, and how all actions of each individual are interrelated. Therefore, I believe we can bring oral narratives into learning spaces by highlighting that past, as it had been, has led to the current moment, so that whatever has happened, we could create our notion about it to be conscious about the causes of our being.
Silver, T. C., Victor, X. C., Foulds, K., & Schneider, L. (2020). Semá:th Xó:tsa _ Sts’ólemeqwelh Sxó:tsa Great-Gramma’s Lake [E-book]. The Reach Gallery Museum.