As they have always done, the Chiptekwilah, or Secwépemc creation stories, are travelling by word of mouth, one person to another.
This time, however, they’re travelling in the form of digital recordings.
The Good Spirit Box is a digital legacy of Secwépemc creation stories. They stem from a collaboration with Neskonlith and Splatsin knowledge keepers, Elders, educators and storytellers, explained the Salmon Arm Arts Centre in a written description of the project.
The Good Spirit Box came after an art gallery exhibit in 2018, the Slxlxaya: Stories of the Secwepemc People. Slxlxaya are described as stories told by families about something that happened in a person’s life or to a family member.
The arts centre explained the Slxlxaya Stories Box and the smaller version, the Good Spirit Box, were inspired by Neskonlith knowledge keeper Louis Thomas, whose dream has been to teach Secwépemc history to all Shuswap children, to share Secwépemc legends and knowledge with the wider community, to encourage understanding between the settler and Indigenous cultures, as well as promote the health of the environment.
Thomas explained to the Observer he was doing a project with public radio years ago, followed by one at the art gallery. He was asked if he could do a write-up on it, but he emphasized it is oral history. So the recordings were born.
Several storytellers are featured on the recordings in the Good Spirit Box, telling Chiptekwilah or creation stories. Chiptekwilah are described as legends that describe how things in the natural world came to be, using animals to convey teachings.
“Everybody’s got a story, and this is a way of telling our story,” said Thomas. “Our stories need to be told, a lot of them are coming out now – like the residential school and everything else, and I think these have been put away for too long. I think there’s getting to be more of an interest in stories. We all have stories to tell of the past, and that’s why we got into this, to be able to start telling the story of our people, our Secwépemc people. This is one way of getting our story out there. Our Chiptekwilah talk about it – our creation stories.”
Read more: Bringing stories to life
Thomas said there’s a rich history in the Chiptekwilah that apply to many current situations.
“To me, it’s all about the sharing and the history goes with it. We never really look back on history. We always look at maybe money too much. It’s fine to have money. But it’s not so fine when you don’t have any. So these are the kind of things that these Chiptekwilah tell. They tell people how to live in this land… You have to really listen because it’ll fit into any modern-day things that happen. If you really listen you’ll have an idea how to associate with each other. And with the land. These are the things these stories are about. The close association with the people and the land.
Thomas said he has noticed more people getting out on the land during the pandemic, which is important because Mother Nature provides everything.
“You look around, there’s not one thing she doesn’t provide. Yet we abuse her. We keep taking and taking. According to our Chiptekwilah, if you keep taking and taking, famine will follow. Some people will starve – people are not giving back to the land. It’s like a bank machine – you go and put money in and then you keep taking and taking and sooner or later, you know what will happen. These are the kind of things that our creation stories tell you. It’s also why it’s important to start educating our young people.”
Thomas said he thinks everyone’s stories need to be told.
“They talk about truth and reconciliation – the truth and reconciliation in my view is we should all, not just with our native people, start understanding each other, where we came from and where we’re going. To me that’s what these stories will tell you about too.”
The Good Spirit Box recently travelled to Revelstoke where the school district and its Indigenous support workers will decide when and where the stories will be shared.
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