“What the Elders Told Us” is the theme for an amazing art exhibition that will be easily seen throughout Smithers and Witset. It seems like the perfect time to show love and respect to the Wet’suwet’en people on whose territories we reside by hanging brilliant and creative works of art on lamp posts along Highway 16 and surrounding the Multi Plex in Witset. These works of art are related to the stories that Elders shared with students over the past year.
There are many aspects of this project that go beyond the purpose of gorgeous youth art banners. In part, this project was to honour the Elders and the wisdom they share with the ancient stories they carry. The project was to bring together Indigenous and non-indigenous students in order to share the experience of listening to Elders tell stories that have been shared for generations.
As well, for non-indigenous students to come to Witset and visit in the community.
Last, but not least, for students and teachers from each community to connect and express their creative selves though the shared experience of art.
Last spring, plans got underway to create a profound and colourful art/reconciliation project. Linda Stringfellow who works for Kyah Wiget Education Society created and presented a power point called “What the Elders Told Us” to the Witset Language Authority, the Town of Smithers and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en asking permission and direction on protocol regarding the idea of students from both Witset and Smithers, participating in listening to Elder’s stories and depicting those stories on banners, that would hang from lamp posts in both Witset and Smithers.
In following direction from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en a smoke feast hosted by Kyah Wiget Education Society was held in the small feast hall in Witset during which Elders were hired to tell stories. In November, a second feast was held in order to let the community know who was hired. This feast is called a Settlement Feast.
At the end of November, the first story telling session was attended by the Witset Elementary Grade 6/7 class and the Heartwood School, blended education program.
Our first Elder story teller was K’iliset (Vi Gellenback). She shared a beautiful story of the salmon in the canyon with a moral teaching about bullying.
A few days later both groups of students started painting their banners in the Centennial Hall illustrating the theme.
At the end of November, a second session of story telling happened with Witset ICount students and students from Bulkley Valley Christian School. They listened to stories from Smogelgem (Warner Naziel). Warner had the group engaged with his gifted story telling and Likhdilye (Russel Tiljoe) was able to attend an event that was held in the evening where he spoke a great deal about culture and the importance of the Wet’ suwet’en feast hall system.
Lastly, the Adult Ed programs in Witset and the Smithers Secondary Art students listened to Elder stories in January told by Hagwilnegh (Ron Mitchell) and Timberwolf (Mable Forsythe). Both Elders shared interesting personal stories and again students were glued to the sharing of history. In the end, we have 60-plus original works of art from students age five and up to display in our communities.