By Julia Magsombol 

Local Journalism Initiative

They say if we listen closely, we may learn something new. That was the desired outcome of the final speaker series at Four Points Books on September 28.

Indigenous Councillor Mark Thomas from Kenpesq’t (Shuswap Band of the Secwépemc people) and Councillor Lillian Rose from ?Akisq’nuk (K’tunaxa) First Nation were guest speakers leading up to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The first speaker on September 14 was Debra Fisher, the regional director of Metis Nation BC (Region 4). She discussed their citizens and the government in relation to truth and reconciliation, and how actions can lead to healing.

Councillor Thomas spoke about their nation’s land, children, and future. He discussed the importance of salmon to himself and his nation. 

“I’m proud to say we have salmon in our waters now. And it’s because of our efforts,” he said. “And we have the perfect storm. I can get my foot in that door to say, ‘We want more salmon back in the Columbia River.’”

The councillor said that it has been more than 83 years since the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams blocked the migratory routes that the salmon relied on since then. This severely impacted those who relied upon the resource for survival, with the loss impacting language, culture, knowledge transfer, health, and the economy.

As the ‘salmon chief,’ Councillor Thomas led the release of the salmon last May, and immense hope has existed since then. 

“What would it be like for you to sit there, stand there with your son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, niece, nephew? You bought them a fishing rod, and you got it all tied up for catching some fish. . . then there’s a lot of good feelings inside you because of that,” he said. “You just passed on knowledge, and [it’s good] they are being successful on what you’ve taught them.” 

He added that their ties to the salmon are strong. Passing their cultural knowledge to the children almost disappeared as the salmon did. But now, it is back. These salmon reinforced the connection to their land and culture. 

“Our elders there . . . suffered the longest. So it was imperative that they were the first ones that touched those fish,” he added. “I guess it still brings me almost tears just thinking about it. I stood up for my nation. People came out to support me and stood up for me to be a salmon chief.” 

Speaking of Truth and Reconciliation Day, Thomas said he wants their kids to hold their heads up high, which they are doing now. He wants to give their kids identities, self-worth, and rights.

“What’s reconciliation without truth? I hear that a lot. So, I think that it’s time to reconcile the differences that we’ve had in the past to understand one another a little bit more,” he said. “We have to represent who we are. We have to look at the past to know where you’re going in the future.”