Secwepemc Nation raises spirits through song

·3 min read

An afternoon of drumming and song was devoted to raising Secwepemc Nation members’ spirits during a time of stress and significant loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, the prayers we do and the songs that we do are prayers for our people,” Splats’in Chief Wayne Christian said in a virtual ceremony hosted Friday, Jan. 22 by the Secwepemc Health Caucus.

“It’s really important for boosting our heart and our spirit to raise it up, especially for those that have lost loved ones because we can’t gather in our tradition, our custom and our culture to help the family,” he added.

Tsq’escen’emc (Canim Lake Band) is mourning the loss of language speaker and knowledge keeper Ella Gilbert, the community’s first death due to COVID-19.

Christian said it was essential to know and understand that their ancestors would be standing with them as they sang.

“They’re watching and helping as much as they can, and I think it’s up to us to ask for the help that we need not only for the people as a whole but also ourselves because many times in ceremony we forget to ask for help for ourselves,” he said, calling everyone a leader in their own way.

“So much of what we need to do is within us, within our mind and our heart.”

Among those performing was T’exelcemc (William Lake First Nation) cultural co-ordinator David Archie, who sang Amazing Grace for Gilbert and recently passed T’exelcemc members Byron Louie and Michelle Wycotte.

While the song was dedicated to anyone facing loss and dealing with COVID-19, Archie said it was primarily for Louie and his family.

Mike Archie from Tsq’escen’emc participated by singing the Honour Song.

“I know that my community is hit pretty hard by COVID and there’s a lot of people that are asking for prayers,” he said.

From their home at Cemetem’ (Deep Creek) north of Williams Lake, Cheryl Chapman said while it was good to virtually see everyone, it was hard not to reach out and be able to physically hug them.

Before Chapman joined her partner, Mike Retasket, in singing Remember Me, Retasket said his daughter in Wisconsin was experiencing headaches, fever, chills and body pains that would likely last 24 hours after receiving her second Pfizer vaccine shot.

“There are so many people in our nation to help hold up today and I’m really happy to be able to help out with that work,” Retasket said.

Prior to singing the Horse Song with his son, Tk’emlups (Kamloops), member Garry Gottfriedson explained how the song he sang during his childhood, about family coming together for strength, originated.

“It’s’ really important that we understand that, and we must acknowledge where these songs come from so that we don’t make mistakes in our nation and have to pay the price for it,” he said.

“I think so many times I see how we make a mistake and then we suffer for it, but now is the time to sing this song to bring us all together, so we remember for this little child for his future, for the future of our nation — the Secwepemc Nation.”

Esk’etemc First Nation (Alkali Lake) elder Fred Johnson led a peace song and closing prayer in Secwepemctsin, which Mary Harry wrote they need to hear more often as it is how they learn to speak in their traditional language.

Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace advised communities heavily impacted by COVID-19 and needing supplies such as Tsq’escen’emc and T’exelcemc to reach out to other communities who would see how they could help.

Chief Christian reminded Secwepemc Nation members to continue following COVID-19 protocols and be cautious with their interactions.

“COVID doesn’t travel,” he said. “It’s the people that travel.”

Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune