Ancient rituals came together with modern art in an event that those present won’t soon forget. The moment had finally arrived for the unveiling of the pictograph piece artist Ed Staples had been working on for months along with members of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band and tireless event planner and visionary Robin Lowe. With Lowe leading the way, the Princeton Arts Council grabbed a firm hold on a the concept of a Spirit Festival and united spent hours brainstorming and fine tuning a day like none before held in Princeton.
Thursday evening an intimate crowd gathered in the library. It was hard to miss the cloth draped over something suspiciously large on the foyer wall. “This hand made ceramic mural was created in honour of the pictographs on Old Hedley Road,” stated Lowe. “The Upper Similkameen Spirit Festival was born out of a curiousity and respect for these ancient artifacts. People travel the world trying to get a glimpse of pictographs and we have them just miles from our homes. It is time that our community shine a light on the amazing history of this region. Not just the post contact period of the last 200 years or so, but the entire history that goes back thousands of years.”
“It is so appropriate that we have a amazing public art piece that will serve as a legacy of this festival and a reminder of the cultural importance of these images to the Similkameen people. Ed has worked tirelessly for months taking slow steady steps forward n having the images approved and speaking with Oly Bent an artist from the Upper Similkameen Band, and the band elders to ensure that the images were used respectfully. His hard work has paid off and here sits something that everyone can feel proud of.”
“The cultural values of a community give it an identity of its own,” stated Councillor Marilyn Harkness to the group. “A community gains a character and a personality because of the culture of its people. Culture is shared by the members of a community. It is learned and passed from the older generations to the newer ones. For an effective transfer of culture from one generation to another, it has to be translated into symbols. Language, art and religion serve as the symbolic means of transfer of cultural values between generations.”
Staples was grateful for the opportunity to create the art piece “Guardians” for the library foyer and for the festival. “This has been an amazing journey. I never could have imagined when I retired from teaching music two and a half years ago that I’d be standing in front of this ceramic tile mural. Along the way, I’ve learned an incredible amount and I couldn’t have done this without help from several people. Thank-you to Rod Dixon for his assistance with the hanging mechanism; Oscar Irwin and Ron Harkness for helping me lift the finished work into place; and Ernie Lawrence for donating the installation materials. I would also, like to thank Chief Charlotte Mitchell, Carrie Allison and the elders of the Upper Similkameen First nation, Christine Allison and Oly Bent for their support and assistance in the creation of this work.”
Staples went on to thank “three incredible women. Susan Delatour LePoidevin, who has been more than a source of knowledge and experience, she’s also been a true and valued friend; Robin Lowe who has provided such incredible support for this amazing project; and my wife, Nienke Klaver who has been with me every step of this journey.”
“what started as an exploration in clay has ended in a profound appreciation for the spiritual value of eh valley that we all live in. The pictographs that adorn the rocks along the Similkameen River are more than ochre pictures created by forgotten people. They are sacred images that give us a glimpse into the soul of the people that have inhabited this valley for thousands of years. It’s my wish that “Guardians” is seen as a worthy tribute to their history and their culture.”
Oly Bent lit ceremonial sage in a special bowl and smudged the mural and any guests who wanted to take part in the spiritual ritual. He also treated everyone to his drumming. Brenda Gould, archaeologist for the USIB said a prayer.
Thursday evening was a wonderful prelude to an incredible Saturday. Starting at 10 a.m. the Riverside Centre became a hub of activity. First Nations drummers and dancers, began arriving with equipment and magnificent costumes. The film clips were running in the theatre. An archaeology display was tucked away down the hall, along with art displays from local students in another room and a craft fair in the centre. A concession offered Indian tacos and there was face painting for the kids.
A drum roll call at 12:45 was the beginning of an afternoon attendees won’t soon forget. Mayor Randy McLean, assistant Regional Director Charles Weber and Festival Coordinator Robin Lowe were brought into the Grand March and asked to dance as their introduction. Emcee John Terbasket did a wonderful job of keeping the day light with intermittent humour and energetic explanations of the dancers. The afternoon was opened with a prayer, a welcome speech and a flag ceremony. Princesses were introduced to those in attendance.
From start to finish, the festival was a delight. Brilliant outfits, traditional drums, ancient song and ritual steeped in First Nations history was the order of the day. It was the first annual Spirit Festival and organizer Robin Lowe said, “the Arts Council is committed to making this an ongoing event. Hopefully, one that will still be going for years to come.”
Lowe was proud of the Arts Council and said there were a few people that really were shining stars throughout the event. They just kept going and going. “Emcee John Terbasket had much praise for the Arts Council. “Usually, a Powwow event like this takes a year to organize and the council did it in a few months. We hope we will be back.”