Walking Holidays on the Sunshine Coast- #12 – the totem poles of the shíshálh

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.

Sechelt Village  c.1920

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.

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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.

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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.

totems - hall commemorative

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.

totems - hall

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.

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Sunset Totems

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.

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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.

totems -tsain ko double eagle

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

tony paul eagle

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.

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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.

Follow this link to return to our website www.coraclecove.com

About Coracle Cove

The Sunshine Coast is on Vancouver’s doorstep, and while it’s only 40 minutes away, it's one of BC’s best kept secrets. In Everything Sunshine Coast we’ll unlock the secrets and share our best insider tips to help you get the most out of your next getaway to the Sunshine Coast. Jack & Sheila Pope escaped to the Sunshine Coast over 35 years ago. They own Coracle Cove, a bed & breakfast and vacation rental business, and enjoy sharing the beauty of the Sunshine Coast with visitors from around the world. www.coraclecove.com
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2 Responses to Walking Holidays on the Sunshine Coast- #12 – the totem poles of the shíshálh

  1. Kirk says:

    Great article Jack.

    • claude says:

      Jack, you have enhanced my knowledge of the stories behind
      the totems found throughout the Sechelt town area. Thank you!

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