Feature Story Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Dust in the Wind
Coqualeetza Elders Group faces disbanding
Protestors march in support of the Coqualeetza elders last week.
radition is one of the few things worth passing on to future generations. Much cultural wisdom is locked inside the memories of elderly people. It takes groups like the Coqualeetza Elders Group (CEG) to instill their values and heritage in Stó:lō youth.
Seldom do you see Stó:lō people protesting against their own but this was the case last Wednesday at 7201 Vedder Road.
In January, without any explanation, the Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre (CCEC) board decided to drop the CEG like chafe in a prairie breeze. And just in case the elders wanted to set up shop some place else, they made the name off-limits.
CEG has provided a cultural learning curriculum and events services for almost four decades. Currently, they are about 50 strong with 35 active members.
A single dancer led the solemn group of about 100 marchers who sang and drummed while walking full circle around the Resource Centre, then assembling in the longhouse, just a stone’s throw away.
Once there, Steve Pratt’s strong voice reverberated off the structure’s massive timbers as the wind howled and rattled outside.
Pratt introduced Dr. Diane Archibald, who talked about the importance of preserving Stó:lō culture.
Archibald said that when she started going to the CEG in 1974 no one was talking about being Stó:lō. So she began to explore her culture by learning things like making baskets and digging cedar roots, and speaking the Halkomelem tongue.
"It was really important that many of our elders were teaching us at that time."
In 1976, Archibald started working more closely with the elders in developing a learning curriculum for the Centre called "Our Treasure Basket".
“The elders thought that the Stó:lō knowledge, stories and history that they were working on were like our treasure, our knowledge treasure,” she explained.
“Today, we're proud of the name Stó:lō and all our other names that come from our various communities.”
"Many people have benefitted from the important work of the elders over all these years. This is the name that they have brought to life," said Archibald referring to Coqualeetza.
Skowkale band member Bob Hall said things were vastly different fourty-five years ago.
"The last time we marched on Coqualeetza, we all got thrown in jail," said Hall.
“It makes me sad that we have to do what we're doing today.”
Hall said Coqualeetza was started by his father Gordon Hall and Wilfred Charlie after chief's meeting in 1969 when they felt that it was important to get the elders together.
So the Wednesday meetings started.
“They got us to buy tape recorders and I went to every reserve in the Valley and we would meet in elder's homes and have lunch every Wednesday,” explained Hall. “Those recordings I know are in the archives. They talked about our language and our history, our culture and our heritage, and how important the family unit was.”
“They left us a very strong traditional sense of culture and of self-determination. I believe to this day the reason why I'm here speaking with you is because what they left with us. It’s very important that we support and recognize how the Coqualeetza Elder's Group survived for over 45 years.”
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See photos below.
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