tems swiya – “Our World”

By Aidan,

While in Sechelt, I had the pleasure of accompanying Allee to the tems swiya Museum. Tems swiya is a museum operated by the shíshálh Nation on the Sunshine Coast. This museum has the important task of housing, preserving, and displaying objects that are important to the social and cultural identity of the shíshálh Nation. The museum consists of an exhibition room that includes an interactive component as well as a lab room for analysis and an archive section. The museum host tours for students from grade schools and universities, and also makes visits to schools to give presentations. The very name of the museum, which means “Our World” in the shíshálh language, speaks to the sense of community present in this building; members of the Nation play an integral role in the functioning of the museum.

Photo: A. Holland Tyrone ready for the next tour.

Photo: A. Holland
Tyrone ready for the next tour.

Several times prior to my visit to the museum, I had been informed of the high quality of tours presented by Tyrone Joe-Mayes – and I was not disappointed. Tyrone led me and several other visitors through the various exhibits on display, explaining interesting facts and the cultural significance of objects such as woven baskets, mortar stones, and stone points.

Photo: A. Holland One of the beautiful displays at the museum exhibiting mortars and pestles.

Photo: A. Holland
One of the beautiful displays at the museum exhibiting mortars and pestles.

My favourite moment from my visit to the museum came when Tyrone told us the story behind the Sechelt Image, the centrepiece of the museum. The Sechelt Image is a stone sculpture of a woman cradling her son in her arms, and is estimated to be at least 3,000 years old. This sculpture was previously held by the Vancouver Museum for 84 years, but after 34 years of negotiation it was returned to the shíshálh Nation and placed in the tems swiya Museum in 2010. The oral tradition that accompanies this sculpture is hauntingly beautiful, and I highly suggest visiting the museum to learn about this story first-hand.

Photo: A. Holland Bone points displayed at the museum.

Photo: A. Holland
Stone and bone points displayed at the museum.

Something Tyrone taught me during the tour that I found very compelling was that, although stories such as this one were never written down, they were passed down orally through the generations and these stories were used to maintain and perpetuate the cultural identity of the shíshálh Nation.

Photo: A. Holland The Sechelt Image as the centrepiece of the display room.

Photo: A. Holland
The Sechelt Image as the centrepiece of the display room.

The next area of the museum Tyrone led our group through was the main exhibit currently being displayed at the museum, which focuses on the Sechelt residential school. Residential schooling, which began in the late 19th century, was a destructive practice implemented by European colonialists that attempted to systematically erase the cultural upbringing of First Nation children. In Sechelt, the residential school was built in 1907 and in operation until 1975. Looking at the black and white school photos hanging on the walls of the museum, it horrified me to think about the atrocities committed by the residential school system against those children and the shíshálh culture as a whole. However, I also thought that the tems swiya Museum is a testament to the fact that the residential school did not succeed in its goal, and the shíshálh cultural identity persists in the Sechelt community today.

Photo: A. Holland

Photo: A. Holland

My visit to the tems swiya Museum was both informative and fun, and I feel I have gained an appreciation for the importance of the shíshálh Nation to this land. I cannot thank Tyrone and Corinna enough for answering all of my many questions about the museum and its displays.

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