By Layna Chelsea –
On May 8, 2017, the community of Esk’etemc held a Declaration of Title and Rights ceremony for its Band members. The event was a large-scale gathering with attendees from several other First Nations Bands and their communities. May 8 had introduced the Yucwimentem re Tmicws re Esk’etemc, “Looking After the Land of the Alkali People.” Family Representatives, Hereditary Chiefs, and Headmen are intended to collaborate with elected Chief and Council in order to gain self-reliance and sustainability within their lands and resources.
Heather Johnson, Amanda Dan, and I were given an opportunity to be involved in a photobook project to capture the Declaration of Title and Rights event. On March 5, 2018 Bettina Johnson offered us the chance to collaborate with Casey Bennett, the photographer who had captured the Esk’etemc Declaration of Title ceremony. As a mentor, Casey had a lot of experience with his craft as well as the various software we could utilize in the project.
Heather Johnson brought knowledge of the Yucwimentem as well as firsthand experience from attending the event. Amanda Dan brought familiarity of Esk’et history as well as understanding of the Shuswap language. Sadly, I was unaware that the Declaration of Title and Rights Ceremony had taken place since I live off reserve, though I learned a great deal and provided a slightly different perspective to the photobook project. The concept of Yucwimentem is complex to explain, but luckily Heather walked me through it numerous times with all the patience of a Family Representative.
The task of creating the photobook began with initial hesitation because the project could be considered the first of its kind, and the Declaration of Title ceremony had made a large impact on Esk’etemc Band members. There were 600 photographs to choose from, and for a 40-page photobook it was not easy as we weren’t certain about what we wanted to display. After some thought, the selection of the photos was chosen based on their relevance to the Declaration of Title and Rights ceremony day itself and the enthusiasm of those who were enjoying the ceremony. Photos of the children were also greatly encouraged as they are considered future leaders of the community.
For a greater idea of what the Declaration of Title entailed, we spoke to those who had been learning their history as well as those who were well-versed in their heritage. We were also given an opportunity to speak to Esk’etemc Hereditary Chief, Francis Johnson Jr. His mentor was Arthur Dick, one of the driving forces in land claims, so Francis was very knowledgeable in what the Declaration of Title means for Esk’et.
The photobook is meant to showcase an historic moment for the Esk’etemc community, and to invite others to celebrate the event as well. It is a day of aspirations and accomplishment. There are those still reeling from the implications of “Declaration Day,” and to see their pride in being Esk’etemc is gratifying.
While working on this project, we learned that there’s so much history and so many stories within the community and among its members. It is our hope that the photobook can prompt more projects to be developed, as Esk’etemc always have stories to tell. To be able to preserve them in something physical would be a great thing for future generations.
Layna Chelsea was born and raised in Esk’et but currently resides in Williams Lake, and has aspirations of becoming a writer while also enjoying photography and dabbling in videography. The photobook discussed is titled “Celebration & Ceremony” and it is available on the website (www.blurb.com/b/8629441-celebration-ceremony).