Brent Chudiak One of the ‘knowledge keepers’ featured in an exhibition in the Montebello Museum at R.J. Haney Heritage Village, Gerry Thomas gathers birchbark to make and sell traditional First Nations items and teaches his craft to students in several area schools A photography exhibition of “Knowledge Keepers” from local Shuswap bands and the Métis Association is on display at the Montebello Museum until Sept. 15.-Image credit: Brent Chudiak

Wisdom in words passed down

Faces of local knowledge keepers on display at Montebello Museum

By Leah Blain

Observer contributor

As Brent Chudiak glances around at the photos at the Montebello Museum at R.J. Haney Heritage Village, he says he can’t pick out his favourite.

“I love them all. I’ve been doing photography for almost 50 years and teaching it for 26 and I think these are the best 18 pictures I’ve ever taken. There’s something magical with these people.”

The people he is referring to are the ‘knowledge keepers’ from local Shuswap bands and the Métis Association. Chudiak’s students came up with the idea as they discussed the call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“We made connections with the bands and invited the knowledge keepers to an afternoon tea at Sullivan Campus. We presented them with the idea. At first they were asking, ‘Why do I have to go to the school?’ But we’re creating that bridge, making them feel comfortable and welcome in our schools. That’s the real purpose of the project, to make them feel welcome.”

The photo shoots were done over the next few weeks. It was a group effort explains Chudiak because lighting is the important factor and the students helped set everything up.

“I used Yousuf Karsh’s technique. He’s my idol. He’s probably the most famous portrait photographer in the world. He photographed Fidel Castro, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill… His lighting techniques are very strong and I wanted to use a technique that showed every pore, mole and blemish – it’s them. We’re not hiding anything.”

The results are stunning as their personalities seem to take command of the room by their presence.

As Chudiak goes from picture to picture he talks a little about the various photos.

“They say the eyes are the window of the soul, but in Karsh’s work the hands are the pictures of the soul. I always try to put hands into the picture.”

Alongside the pictures are the knowledge keepers’ advice to graduating students. John Sayer of the Métis Association is pictured holding a traditional pipe, which was used as a measurement (e.g. the length of time it takes for one pipe smoke). His advice to grads: “Your life is going to change many times. Who you are now doesn’t mean who you are going to be.”

Ethel Thomas, a knowledge keeper of the Splatsin Band, shares her pearls of wisdom: “Words are like toothpaste – once it’s out, you can’t put it back. Speak from the heart not the head. Be careful what you say because words can hurt.”

“Share your knowledge with not only those who know you, but also those who need it,” says Gerry Thomas of the Neskonlith Band. “Sharing what you know will help our culture continue. Don’t be afraid to put your hand out to help others.”

The collection will continue to hang in the gallery at the Montebello Museum until Sept. 15 Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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