In an effort to weave together a history severed by an international border, a pair of Selkirk College instructors headed south this past summer to explore Lakes People history first hand.
In June, Duff Sutherland and Myler Wilkinson were invited to visit Inchelium on the Colville Confederated Tribes Reserve in Washington State, just south of Christina Lake. Hosted by Arrow Lakes Facilitator Virgil Seymour of the Colville Tribe, Sutherland and Wilkinson were guided through the traditional lands on the American side of the border that form a common history with First Nations in the Kootenay-Boundary.
“It’s important to understand the indigenous people that existed through and across borders over time,” says Wilkinson. “Now there is an international border that separates us, but you can see historically speaking and in a cultural sense, it is really one land.”
Virgil Seymour (right) and the Miss Arrow Lakes representatives at the elders luncheon in Inchelium that was attended by Selkirk College instructors Myler Wilkinson and Duff Sutherland this past summer.
A Professional Enrichment
Wilkinson has been teaching in the Selkirk College English and Peace Studies programs for 27 years. Sutherland is a member of the history department and has been teaching out of the Castlegar Campus for 15 years.
Both instructors have a passion for the First Nations history of our region and jumped at the opportunity to take a closer look. The Lakes People in the Inchelium are directly related to the Sinixt in Canada. Though the Canadian government declared the Sinixt extinct in Canada in 1956, many still live in the region and are tied to the people south of the border.
“The international line has cut us off from the history on both sides of the border,” says Sutherland. “Even though I have taught the history of our area for many years, I don’t think I really understood what it was like below the border. I didn’t really feel like I knew those people until I went down there to see their community.”
Virgil Seymour showing the Selkirk instructors the Inchelium high school's wall of honour that displays all the students who have served in the US armed forces which is a great source of pride for the community.
Strengthening the Links
While in Inchelium, Seymour was able to shed more light on one of the more prominent Sinixt families that left the area for the United States in 1919. Sutherland says little was known about exactly what happened to the Christian Family when they left Canada and Seymour was able to fill in some of the blanks.
The men also visited the Pia Mission which is located just over the border from Christina Lake. The Catholic mission was an important stopping point for Sinixt who traveled south.
“This trip south allowed us to viscerally experience cultural realities that have existed across international borders into deep time,” says Wilkinson. “It was the Sinixt or Lakes People that were traveling through these lands and we were very fortunate to see what happened to many of them when they went down to and stayed in the United States.
“As one often does in important situations where you have not had prior knowledge, one learns there are real people attached to places and ideas. And those real human beings on the land affect ideas and our understanding of landscapes. We were openly invited into Lakes territory to the south of us. We would like to be generous with those people and their histories.”
One of the last parts of the trip was a visit St. Mary's mission near Omak. It is understood that Alexander Christian, last Sinixt man to live at confluence of Kootenay and Columbia rivers, was buried here.
In the Footprints of Great Explorers
After spending a two days in Inchelium and taking part in an elder’s luncheon as part of their experience, the two men decided to carry on through the Columbia River corridor. While journeying through some of the important stops of interest that were once traveled by the likes of David Thompson, Lewis and Clark, and other early explorers, the two men eventually arrived at the mouth of the mighty Columbia in Astoria, Oregon.
“I was really interested to finally go down and try figure out where some of these places were that I have been teaching about over the years,” says Sutherland. “The rivers are really the historical highways of this region... it has shaped the history. I took some pictures and did some video that I can now share with my students.”
Sutherland is currently teaching BC History, Latin America History, Canadian History, and the History of Western Civilization. Next semester he will add West Kootenay History to the list and will be able to share some of his first-hand experiences with students.
Wilkinson is teaching Peace Studies, Canadian Literature and English Literature this semester. He is one of the founding members of the Mir Centre for Peace on the Castlegar Campus.
Instructor Duff Sutherland looking down at the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria.
Special Presentation Friday at the Gathering Place
Wilkinson, Sutherland and Seymour will be presenting The Cultural Homelands: Sinixt/Lakes People in the Kootenays and Beyond presentation will take place on Friday starting at noon at the Gathering Place on the Castlegar Campus. All are invited to this free event.
“We want to lead people down a little road they may not be able to go down,” Wilkinson says of the Friday presentation that will include photos and a short film by Seymour. “Places they can see and roads they can reflect on that show this linkage across borders in deep time.”