Reconciliation and celebration: syíyaya Days fast approaches

June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day kicks off syíyaya Days, 11 days of events celebrating Indigenous culture, histories and ways of knowing. It’s a partnership between the syíyaya Reconciliation Movement, shíshálh Nation and the District of Sechelt.

This is the third year of the celebration. “We named it syíyaya days, which means family days because it’s time to start walking together and planning events that we can all enjoy. It’s in the true spirit of reconciliation,” ʔakista xaxanak Garry Feschuk, hereditary chief and former elected chief of the shíshálh Nation, and co-chair of the syíyaya Reconciliation Movement, explained at the celebration’s inception in 2022.

The syíyaya Days celebrations begin on June 21, with music and a potluck by the Canadian Métis Nation, held at the Seaside Centre from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Later that afternoon, the events continue at Hackett Park, where the Old Elk Dance Troupe with Curtis Joe Millar will be at 4 p.m.

On Saturday the 22nd, s-yéwyáw AWAKEN, a film and community experience by Ecko Alec will take place at the shíshálh Nation hall from 11 a.m. throughout the day until 3 p.m.

Alec will return in the evening for a spoken word and hip-hop dance performance, starting at 7 p.m. at the Nation hall. “She’s very engaging,” said Dale Sankey of syíyaya Reconciliation Movement. “She’s great.”

Talaysay Tours, a tourism company founded by Candace and Larry Campo, shíshálh and Skwxwú7mesh Nation members, will be hosting several tours throughout the celebration.

A one-kilometre “Talking Trees” tour will take place on June 22, beginning at the Interpretive sign in Porpoise Bay Provincial Park at 4 p.m.

“Talking Totems” will be on June 24, this two-kilometre walk will start at the Tsain-ko Gift Shop on 5555 Sunshine Coast Highway at 10 a.m.

A cultural walking tour “Spoken Treasures” along Gibsons Landing will be on June 30, meeting at the Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives at 716 Winn Road.

Talaysay Tours will be offering more tours and events throughout syíyaya days, see more online.

On June 23, all are welcome to the Reconciliation Pole unveiling ceremony to be held behind the Our House of Clans, at 1 p.m.

The ceremony will feature singing, dancing and the timeline of the pole will be shared. This will include identifying key figures on the pole and speaking to all the people who lent a hand in its creation.

Like many projects in the community, the reconciliation pole came from a monumental effort. It was started by the late master carver ?antuni Tony Paul in 2019, who died before it was finished.

During the National Indigenous Peoples Day weekend in 2019, the public was invited to chip away at the pole as it was being carved and in doing so contribute to its creation.

Sankey said that roughly 1,700 people came to help carve the pole.

“It highlighted that the carving is alive and well in the shíshálh Nation,” Sankey said. “And also, it gave people the opportunity to learn more, that they were standing on the ground of the former residential school.”

St. Augustine’s Residential School in Sechelt was operational from 1904 until 1975. The Government of Canada funded the institution for more than 70 years. During that time, members of more than 50 First Nations attended the institution.

Last month, on May 29, an awakening ceremony was held for the pole and the following day a Sacred Mask Ceremony took place.

The awakening ceremony featured 11 blanketed women who used cedar boughs to brush down the pole as drumming and singing took place, said Sankey. Holly Higgins, daughter of the late Barbara Higgins, was the Elder advisor for the awakening ceremony.

Sankey said the event also featured speakers and witnesses and she called it a “beautiful ceremony.”

“The event brought the community together to celebrate and reconnect with our cultural heritage. The totem pole, beautifully carved by Tony Paul, tells the stories of the community, reconciliation and our ancestors,” said a statement from the Nation on Facebook. “This event highlighted the power of art and culture in bringing people together and fostering reconciliation and unity within the community.”

During delegations to the Coast’s local governments in May, Feschuk invited them to send representatives to the Sacred Mask Ceremony and explained the importance of being invited.

“If you come to that ceremony you are very blessed because not many people get to see the ceremony, it’s so sacred,” Feschuck told the Sunshine Coast Regional District board, adding that no pictures or recordings of the event were allowed.

syíyaya events continue on June 24 when Chief Robert Joseph, who was instrumental in putting the 94 calls to action forward in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, will be reading his book, Namwayut: We Are All One: A Pathway to Reconciliation.

Sankey said that Joseph was the force behind the walk for reconciliation in Vancouver in 2013, when approximately 70,000 people joined.

Sankey described Joseph, who is a friend of Feschuk, as an amazing speaker.

Sankey shared that on Wednesday, June 26, tems swiya Museum will be open to the public, showcasing their new display.

Later in the week, on June 28, Ch’kw’elhp Genealogy with K’atxa’mat Frances J. Nahanee will be held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Gibsons Public Library on 470 S Fletcher Road. Speaking to her, Skwxwú7mesh ancestry, Nahanee will share about ancestral naming and the genealogy of the Squamish Nation.

Sankey said that Nahanee is a lovely speaker, with a wealth of knowledge who has a deep understanding of traditions.

Finally, the 11 days of celebrating will conclude at Hacket Park on July 1 for a parade, live music, craft vendors and much more, running from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

– With files from Michael Gurney, Keili Bartlett and Sophie Woodrooffe

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Jordan Copp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Coast Reporter