The power of one individual cannot ever be discounted! I very much enjoy reading about Aboriginal cultures and traditions. In a wonderful little thrift store in Salmon Arm, I found an old 2004 article in Okanagan Life magazine on how the Osoyoos Band saved its traditional culture and how two Walshes helped this process along.
The story begins during the Great Depression when a local fox farmhand from Vernon, BC. substituted for a teacher friend and discovered how much he loved both teaching and children. At the time, Chief Baptiste George paid for teacher’s salaries out of his own earnings so that they would not be carted off to the now infamous “residential schools”. Chief Baptiste George heard of Walsh’s character and the quality of the man. He hired him to teach at Inkameep Day School.
Thus began a long standing association with the white community. This one act helped increase interest in Okanagan First Nations cultural heritage. One man, found a way of reaching young children and allowed them to explore their cultural heritage in a time where prejudices about First Nations people abounded. He encouraged them to create traditional masks, wear ceremonial clothing and their sing the songs of their ancestors.
You have to understand, this was a time when whites had taken their lands, some without negotiations. We now know the horrors of residential schools and the mark they left on First Nations people. There was no reason to trust us.
This one man’s ”way of being” affected the course of history. He took his classes out to pictograph sites, allowed them to tell their ancestral stories, write plays and perform their traditional dances. One of his students, George Clutesi, became renowned throughout Canada for his paintings. He eventually left Inkameep to work with the Red Cross to support “nation-building”.
The next teachers did not value aboriginal culture, and one of them had the families bring the artwork from their homes and burn the art. Thankfully, Katy Lacey, a local woman, saved many of these artworks and was able to give them to the Osoyoos Museum. This later became known as the Inkameep Day School children’s art collection.
Leslie Plakett, a local woman, became instrumental in a three-way cooperation between the Museum, the current Chief Clarence Louie and the University of Victoria and these images have now digitized and archived. Coincidentally, the anthropologist from the University of Victoria name is Andrea Walsh. To this day, their heritage is celebrated at the Nk’Mip Desert and Heritage Center with sculptures, dance competitions, pow-wows, pit houses, sweat house, gift shop, and wine!
Anthony Walsh was given an Honorary doctoral degree from Concordia University in 1976 for establishing a refuge for destitute men. He is remembered by the children of those he helped helped find their creativity. One such man is Ron Hall who has paintings in the National Gallery in Ottawa and works with local schools to further encourage young people to respect and honor nature.
The power of one individual who saw and understood First Nations’ link to spirit and land. Beautiful!
Photo credit: Osoyoos Museum