The Reach Gallery Museum has announced the release of its latest publication, Sema:th Xo:tsa Sts’olemeqwelh Sxo:tsa (Sema:th Xo:tsa Great-Gramma’s Lake).
The children’s book has been published to acknowledge 100 years since Sema:th Xo:tsa (Sumas Lake) was drained. The lake, which once occupied what is now known as the Sumas Prairie in the central Fraser Valley, was the source of food and medicine, as well as significant cultural and spiritual nourishment, for the Sto:lo people.
When the settler population arrived, their concern for the destruction it caused when it flooded caused them to successfully petition the government to drain it.
“Although the lake was physically large and culturally invaluable, its existence does not seem to be common knowledge to the mainstream in this region today,” says Kris Foulds, co-author and curator of historical collections at The Reach.
“We wanted to ensure that this gap in the historical record would be corrected for generations to come and what better way to do that than by educating children?”
The story is based on a young boy and his Gramma who take an afternoon drive around the area once occupied by the lake while she shares her knowledge with him.
The book was illustrated by co-author and acclaimed Sto:lo artist Carrielynn Victor, whose lively digital illustrations populate historical images of the lake from The Reach’s photo archive with plants, animals and other beings that once were a significant part of the ecosystem around Sumas Lake.
“Creating the images that fit with the photos has been a process of attempting to capture the moments and pictures I see in my mind, while listening to a story or reading about Sema:th Xo:tsa,” Victor said.
With the support of several funding partners, The Reach will distribute free copies to Sto:lo communities, as well as elementary classrooms and libraries in the Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack school districts.
The book includes a language guide for Halq’eméylem words, and The Reach’s website is home to resources to support parents and educators, including videos and lesson-planning ideas.
“The book is an essential tool for young people in our community to learn more about the language and the land,” said Chris Silver, co-author and band councillor from Sema:th First Nation. “The lake is still an important part of our lives, and we keep it alive through story.”
A limited number of books will be shared with the public in a giveaway at The Reach on Saturday Nov. 21. The book is also available on The Reach’s website (thereach.ca) as a downloadable PDF and as animated video, narrated by Victor and Silver.
An exhibition inspired by the book is on view at The Reach until Jan. 9.