When COVID-19 restrictions forced the Sncəwips Heritage Museum to temporarily close its doors, museum assistants Coralee Miller and Kayt Ell knew what they had to do — make funny videos.
“Our strength comes from being able to laugh, even in the darkest of times,” says Miller, who is a member of Westbank First Nation (WFN). “Laughter is such a huge form of medicine.”
The pair felt that funny educational videos would be a good way to continue to deliver on the museum’s mission — to collect, preserve, restore and interpret “art and artefact collections that reflect the heritage and natural history of the syilx/Okanagan People” — during a time of social distancing, they tell IndigiNews.
The Sncəwips Heritage Museum is owned by WFN and it officially opened in 2014, after operating as a repository for nine years. In February 2020, the museum relocated to a new space in stqaʔtkʷɬcni̓wt (“windy bay” also known as Westbank), adding a gift shop, but was forced to close shortly after.
“We started working from home, we couldn’t access the public,” says Ell, also from WFN. “As a museum, our primary duty is to educate the public, and you can’t do that when nobody can come to you.”
She says they got the idea to start making videos from WFN y̓lmixʷm (Chief) Christopher Derickson, who started sharing video updates with his community during the pandemic.
“We thought this is a great idea, [and] we can do this, too,” she says.
“Land acknowledgments are part of the Truth and Reconciliation movement,” Miller says in the video series.
It’s important to include the word “unceded” in land acknowledgments, she adds, as it recognizes that the land was not surrendered to the Crown — an important distinction for communities that never signed any documents giving up land rights or ownership.
Earlier this year, they released another series called “Storytime with Sncəwips”, in which Miller explains why captikw (stories) are only shared in the wintertime.
“It’s believed that it’s better manners to talk about animals when they are asleep than when they are awake,” she says.
After sharing a story called “Coyote Killed the Wind”, Miller translates important words from the story in nsyilxcən (the syilx language).
‘No one likes to be lectured — make it fun’
Of all the videos, Miller says her favourite is “Searching for Sasquatch” — about a hunter who embarks on a search for Sasquatch in the woods, only to find a man dressed in a gorilla suit.
“I have my cousin Nathan acting as the hunter and my boyfriend Joseph Lanaway as the Sasquatch,” she says.
This video tells a funny story while also addressing the misappropriation of Sasquatch.
Sasquatch is “a very important spiritual aspect of the syilx culture [that] has become a mascot and commercialized entity,” Miller says in the video.
The museum reopened in July, but that doesn’t mean the pair is going to stop making videos for social media, says Miller.
“Humour has always been — even before settlement and all the issues that have come from intergenerational trauma … a way in which we would pass down our values and our morals,” says Miller, who stars in many of the videos — interweaving storytelling, humour, history, and culture.
“No one likes to be lectured, but it’s so much easier to relate to people and to get your point across if you make it fun and if you make it happy.”
Back in December 2020, Jordan Coble, a WFN Councillor initially nominated Miller, Ell and their team for IndigiNews’ Okanagan Changemaker Series.
“I would like to recognize the Sncəwips Heritage Museum. Despite the pandemic and subsequent closure, Coralee, Kayt and the rest of the museum team brought so much happiness through the videos they shared that were so awesome while showcasing the history and culture of the Okanagan people,” writes Jordan Coble.
Coble features in the team’s latest video about Chief swkn̓cut, which was released July 21.
“Anything we can sort of integrate our culture and heritage into is great,” says Ell, adding that they hope to “make people realize that syilx people aren’t gone.”
“We’re still here, we’re still alive, we’re still vibrant.”
Miller and Ell say they’re planning to continue producing videos on a monthly basis.
And for those planning to visit the museum, up to 10 people are allowed in at a time. It’s open to walk-ins or booked guided tours, says Miller, and masks are “definitely recommended.”
Editor’s note: We don’t use capital letters in nsyilxcən words. This is because, according to nsyilxcən language holders, capitalization insinuates that someone or something holds more importance than another, and this belief does not fall in line with syilx ethics.