The shíshálh people have lived on the Sunshine Coast for several millennia benefiting from the rich resources of the sea and the rain-forest. Their wealth was enhanced through strategic marriages which fostered peace, goodwill and trade . At the time of European contact their population exceeded 25,000.
Unfortunately that relationship would prove to be costly as disease and misguided government policies brought this once proud nation to its knees. More recently the shíshálh have re-gained their economic independence and moved forward to rebuild their Nation. Their totems tell us a story of freedom and re-birth.
In a tremendous cultural renaissance, almost 30 totems have been carved in the last thirty years. While contemporary, they are impressive indications of the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the shíshálh.
Our tour begins at the Sechelt Indian Band Hall which is located behind McDonald’s. Leave your car in the parking lot and walk around to the front of the hall.
It is here that the talking totems begin their story…
On the water side of the Hall, a circle of smaller totems, carved by Jamie Jeffries surrounds a large granite bolder with a plaque describing the history of shíshálh Nation. While only four of the original seven remain, three of these are faceless and represent the loss of identity under the Federal Indian Act.
On October 9, 1986 the federal government passed legislation removing the shíshálhs from the oppressive Indian Act. They became the first in Canada to achieve a self-government status enabling them to exert more control over their economic development . The provincial government would follow 20 months later with legislation creating the Sechelt Indian District Government.
Two larger totems stand to the side of the plaque, each celebrating the passage of this historic legislation by the respective parliamentary body. A second set of totems stand at the front of the hall honouring the elders of the community for their patience and wisdom.
Follow the road leading toward the ocean and turn left, walking along the seawall until you find five totems majestically looking out to the Salish Sea. The shíshálh territory was vast and these totems represent the four main clans of the nation. The ts ´únay were in Jervis Inlet at Deserted Bay and the xénichen at nearby Queen’s Reach. The téwánkw occupied the waters of Sechelt Inlet and the sxixus ranged from Pender Harbour to Roberts Creek. The fifth totem, in the middle, marks the amalgamation of these four clans in 1925 to form the modern day Sechelt Nation.
Leaving the waterfront, walk up Chelphi Avenue until you come to the highway and then turn left, until you reach the traffic light where you can cross the highway. Within just two decades of achieving self-government, the shíshálh Nation had created the Tsain-Ko Village Shopping Centre, the crown jewel of their economic development. To celebrate this achievement five more totems were erected in 2007.
The eagle on the top is the Spiritual Bird that watches over all of the communities. Below is the Welcoming figure, holding its arms out in greeting and welcoming people of other nations to the Sechelt Community
This Thunderbird is the spiritual guardian of the Sechelt Nation and was carved by band member Tony Paul in 2007.
Three more totems are currently being carved to commemorate the opening of the new wing of the hospital which sits on traditional grounds. The land for the hospital was generously donated to the community by the shíshálh Nation several decades ago.
Follow the sidewalk on the north side of the highway and just in front of the hospital you will find artist Andrew U’magalis Puglas and his team at work, skillfully carving to bring out figures of a noble woman, a double headed sea serpent and a great golden eagle from the eight-metre cedar pole.
Cross back over to the other side of the highway, making one final stop at the House of héwhíwus complex. The tems swiya museum welcomes you to a journey encompassing the shíshálh land, history and culture. Stop by the tsain-ko gift shop and take home a reminder of your visit to Sechelt.
With special thanks to Susan Blockberger, Lenora Joe, Fran Nahanee, Bradley Hunt, Jamie Jeffries, Lori Dixon, Kerry Mahlman, Tony Paul and Candace Campo for helping to compile this information.
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