Oral Histories Program Story from Lower Similkameen: ntukʷukʷsp̓us, “healing to put your heart back”.
What does it mean to be healthy and well in this time of sickness? What are the ways that we can carry these teachings and oral histories forward for our children? These are two questions that guided wusxnalqs (Okanagan name) Rheana Marchand-Edward, a first-time FPCC grant recipient, through her project funded by the Oral Histories Program (OHP). The program supports the recording of oral histories focused on how Indigenous communities and individuals survived and lived through difficult times in the past.
“It started off being just a few questions, like what do we need for our healing and for our wellness?” said Rheana. “And it grew much bigger after that.”
Rheana, who is originally from the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington, lives in Lower Similkameen territory with her husband, who is a Lower Similkameen Indian Band member and councilman, and their two sons. She applied for this grant as an opportunity to learn more about her Similkameen family’s lived experiences through challenging times.
The guidelines for the grant required recipients to work within their family “bubbles” to keep participants safe during COVID-19. For her project, Rheana sat with, listened to and recorded oral histories of her father-in-law ktapəniwt Rob Edward and mother-in-law q́wintkʷ Lauren Terbasket, who spoke about the sicknesses of the past, such as smallpox and influenza epidemics, and how the sməlqmix/Similkameen people navigated through them, especially after losing up to 90% of the population over time.
Later in the project, Rheana was able to add two more mentors, kt́aʕpɬniwt Herman Edward and Carol Allison to the project. They all shared on ntukʷukʷsp̓us, healing to put your heart back, and how to strengthen the connection to self, family and Syilx/Smelqmix people in a time of sickness and difficulty.
“What I have learned from working in my community is that each of us holds something important that other people need,” said Rheana. “Whether that is language proficiency, cultural teachings, knowledge about ceremony or traditional plants … we all need each other.”
While many laws and policies in B.C. and Canada focus on the protection of physical heritage, such as buildings, monuments or objects, very few exist to protect Indigenous intangible living heritage, such as stories, oral histories, songs, dance, ceremonies and cultural transmission. This is an urgent concern for Indigenous Peoples as much of what is considered invaluable cultural heritage is living and faces threats to its vitality. Through the OHP grant, FPCC supports projects that acknowledge the importance of intangible living heritage like the recordings that Rheana has made to ensure they are available to the community in the future.
“Anything we can do to support each other in doing this work is huge. It’s important work and every little thing we do, is to preserve those words and those teachings for our children,” said Rheana. “I’m grateful for the support FPCC has helped with, it is amazing, so gracious, so open. Through the whole process, FPCC has been great and supportive to me and this work.”
In total, Rheana spent about 36 hours with her mentors, recorded 2 hours of oral histories and helped digitize many past recordings and pictures into the Lower Similkameen Indian Band’s archives, all of which covered a variety of topics, teachings and histories that will now a resource for future generations. These discussions have also helped in many other areas of their ongoing work, including land-based Natural Resource technician training curriculum, youth-elder protocol training and mental health awareness training.
She also completed this work while being pregnant with her second son, “I don’t recommend doing it while being pregnant at the same time,” Rheana laughed. “My emotions were all over the place!”
We thank Rheana for sharing her Oral Histories program story, for her dedication to this project and her contribution to documenting the oral histories of her community for future generations like her youngest son, scʕasxəń Shale Clayton Edward, who was born during the process of completing this project.
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