Shelley Witzky, Adams Lake band councillor, and Sutra Brett, with the Shuswap Trail Alliance, examine in 2019 some of the preliminary models for the Secwépemc Landmarks project. (Columbia Shuswap Regional District photo)

Shelley Witzky, Adams Lake band councillor, and Sutra Brett, with the Shuswap Trail Alliance, examine in 2019 some of the preliminary models for the Secwépemc Landmarks project. (Columbia Shuswap Regional District photo)

Hometown Hero: ‘Empowering the underdog’ inspires Adams Lake band councillor

“Working together in the spirit of reconciliation, we can create a sustainable economy for us all”

Shelley Witzky’s enthusiasm and drive for supporting her community is rooted in the history of Secwépemc people and the colonial history of Canada.

Nominated as a Hometown Hero by the Shuswap Trail Alliance, Witzky, a councillor with the Adams Lake Band since 2018, has more recently created and led the Secwépemc Landmarks project.

“It’s because of Shelley that the project exists,” stated the trail alliance in its nomination. “Shelley puts in innumerable hours for her community and has done great things for Elders from the four bands in our region.”

Asked what inspires her dedication, Witzky said she will speak directly.

“Our people, Secwépemc and Indigenous people across Canada and North America, we have been subjected to removal from traditional territories and natural economies for over 200 years,” she said.

Layered on that was the government’s residential school policy created to remove the ‘Indian problem’ and take over the land.

“The deck has been stacked against us due to the mindset and government policy of an earlier time in Canadian history. I myself was a have-not and I grew up in poverty as well as the vast majority of my people. When I started to go to university back in my 20s, I thought that if there was ever a time I was in a position to empower the underdog, that I would.”

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She said that was the driving force behind her decision to run for band council.

“And I wanted to come in and create an atmosphere where the heart of the issue was discussed across the table. I believe that we are in modern times bringing forward our Secwépemc cultural values and our economic warriors in boardrooms. So hand in hand is relationship building with our neighbours and guests and visitors into our traditional territory. I believe that working together in the spirit of reconciliation, we can create a sustainable economy for us all, both Secwépemc and Canadian citizens.”

She said she likes to say that the projects she gets involved with, or starts, or the working groups, boards or various tables she’s involved with, that the end goal puts food on her people’s tables.

“So that we’re creating employment and training opportunities and looking at sustainable development for the next seven generations, and there is a healthy ecological environment for them to create sustenance for themselves as well.”

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The Secwépemc Landmarks project started when she and Jacob Sutra Brett with the trail alliance were talking about how Switzerland uses signposts and markers to point out particular mountains.

“When he was talking I was thinking about the teaching of elders and spiritual people… and others, and how Secwépemc have natural landmarks. I suggested we combine those two ideas, and the concept grew from there.”

Started in 2019, it has gone forward with guidance from Elders from the four Secwépemc lakes communities, as well as involvement of youth, and Secwépemc and settler artisans. Along with providing a Secwépemc perspective of the land, the project has created part-time jobs as well as contract opportunities. Two large monuments and six smaller sculptures and accompanying story boards were created. Phases 2 and 3 will see more sculptures, both large and small, with guidance and contributions from Elders and students.

“Locals, visitors and Secwépemc alike, can hike up to the top of trails and view sculptures and story boards,” Witzky said, “and look back with clear sight lines to the monuments. It’s a fun adventure for families.”

Other projects she’s looking forward to include building a winter hunting kekuli north of Revelstoke, as well as working with Elders on protection of pictographs along the lakes so people can view them but not touch them.

Witzky expresses her gratitude to those who have come before her as well as those who have helped and are helping support projects. “Kukstsemc.”



martha.wickett@saobserver.net
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