The shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation’s Tem Swiya Museum was officially reopened on Aug. 13 after a two-year closure, with hundreds of new artifacts and six new showcases added for key exhibits, including a 3-D display case for the famed Sechelt Image.
Dozens of people turned out for the occasion, which featured songs by Xwamtsut and speeches by shíshálh officials and others who were involved in the project. Elders Anne Quinn and Lloyd Jackson sat as guests of honour for the event.
Coun. Ashley Joe, whose traditional name — umagila´ogwa — means The Noble Woman, admitted she was “a little emotional” about the reopening.
“My heart feels really good today,” Joe said. “It looks so beautiful in here. It’s a very proud day for the shíshálh Nation. There’s so much history.”
The displays represent “just a small part of who we are,” she added.
“A lot of our artifacts and our traditional regalia and masks were burned and we weren’t allowed to share them, so it’s really special that we can share all this with the world and for our people,” she said. “I hope that our youth and our people will come to the Tem Swiya Museum to learn about who they are and where they come from, because that’s so important.”
Steven Feschuk, son of vacationing Chief Garry Feschuk and an official in the Sechelt Indian Band’s rights and title department, called the exhibit “a brief snapshot of how our people from time immemorial, from the beginning of time, have lived our lives.”
Feschuk urged visitors to explore the museum with an open mind and said even shíshálh people should never be afraid to ask questions.
“There’s always something to be learned, something to be gained from opening your mind and learning from your own people, but also from the outside community,” Feschuk said. “We’re here to share our knowledge and our history with you so we can all move forward … and be a functioning community.”
Former councillor Keith Julius (Tituya) recounted how he worked with archeologist Peter Merchant for five years, “as we combed our inlets for artifacts and trails and places to dig.” After mapping the traditional shíshálh trail from Jervis Inlet to Squamish, Squamish Nation Elders were contacted and “had the same stories about coming over and trading with the Sechelt people,” he said.
Julius noted there were artifacts on display that dated back 10,000 years, which archeologist Kenzie Jessome confirmed. But, Jessome added, the museum also contains artifacts that are only 30 or 40 years old and they “are no less culturally significant.”
An important feature of the new museum layout, he said, is the cedar display case containing the stone sculpture known as the Sechelt Image, an ancient mortuary stone depicting a mother who threw herself off a cliff after her only son was killed by a war party, which then turned away from a planned attack.
Designed by shíshálh artist Shain Jackson, the 360-degree case enables the visitor to walk around the image and view it from all angles.
“There’s been different interpretations over the years and some people think it depends on where you stand and face it that the interpretation changes, and we wanted to incorporate that into the exhibit,” Jessome said, calling the piece one of the most complex prehistoric sculptures ever found in Canada.
“It’s been on a national tour across all the museums in Canada. This is an extremely, extremely beautiful piece of artwork that’s an extremely important piece of history,” he said.
Another major display showcases small artifacts from the 4,000-year-old burial site for an ancient chief discovered in 2010 at the mouth of Salmon Inlet. More artifacts from the dig — including 350,000 stone beads — are being studied at the University of Toronto and will eventually be returned to the museum for public display.
Other new items on display include jewelry, battle axe heads, stone bowls, hammer stones, a cedar fish net dredged from Deserted Bay and thought to be hundreds of years old, and 80 per cent of the museum’s basket collection, said operations manager Ashley Christensen-Pate.
The new layout also features a contemporary art area and an interactive touch screen that can access vintage photographs, music, video and oral history.
The museum first opened on May 29, 1991 and was closed temporarily in June 2011 due to a rash of thefts and a staffing shortage, said Lenora Joe (Yalxwemult), the Band’s director of education, culture and recreation.
Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“We are waiting for one more staff person to start in September and hopefully will be open seven days a week,” she said.
The museum is located at 5565 Sunshine Coast Highway in Sechelt.