Located near Lillooet, BC, Xwísten offers tours that show first-hand how traditional ways of living are still used today. Environmental impact, respect for the land, historical values and sharing traditions lay the bedrock for an immersive and educational experience.
I spoke with Christina from Xwísten Tours to understand more about the background and impact of the activity options they offer.
Conversation was edited for clarity and length.Xwisten Tours
Alison: I was hoping you could tell me a bit about yourself first?
Christina: I reside in (Xwísten) Bridge River for 12 years in 2019. I married into an Indigenous family, who are Bridge River Band members. I’ve been with my husband for 23 years, so I’m very familiar with this community. I was delighted to be hired as the Community Development Worker position on Sept 24, 2018. I wanted myself and my children to become more involved in the community. So that’s how I became involved in the tours!
A: How and when did the tours start?
C: The tours themselves started in 2004 to generate and create work for our people. How the tours started initially was the Bearfoot Grill. This little concession stand serves authentic, traditional food including salmon, soap berries whipped with sugar (sxúsum) and bannock (fried bread).
A: Yum! That sounds so interesting.
C: The berries are also packed full of so many nutrients! It’s such a useful medicine within our culture. Vitamin C is essential and vital for proper iron absorption which these little gems have a significant amount of.
Tourists were coming from all over the globe stopping in at the Bearfoot Grill for something to snack on. There was a lot of interest in viewing the fishing rocks. For us, it was an opportunity to create awareness of our traditional values with net fishing and wind-dried salmon. We show visitors that today, we’re still using these methods and living off the land for food security.
We also share our remarkable stories. One that is told to visitors about the beautiful face painting called “Fish Face” by Artist Saul Terry. Located at the traditional Xwísten (Bridge River) Fishing rocks of the St'at'imc people. The mural is an astonishing 20 square feet and is presently visible for viewing.
In 1978, the mural was created as a commemoration marking the victory of banning the imposed practice to remove the snout and dorsal fin of fish.
A: So, people get to hear this story and see the painting when they come to visit?
C: Yes, exactly. I think that it’s the story that really creates that remarkable experience because you’re making that emotional connection to understand our culture. We mark this victory and show that we’re still practicing these traditions today. Our people are still here. We want you to learn our teachings.
A: Is part of the mandate or reason to empower individuals to share their stories?
C:Our tour guides share their own stories. We hire local residents that have been living in the community and are part of Xwísten. Our tour guides speak the St'at'imc language as well, so the experience is truly authentic.
A: What can explorers expect when they arrive?
C: First, we gather together. The experience includes learning, sharing and sometimes ceremonial drumming. We walk up a trail across the Bridge River Bridge. This is a great place to take photos of the pristine, aquamarine river meeting the big, brown Fraser River. You can see where the colour bleeds into it. There are always eagles, and sometimes river otters that come to say hi!
As we walk, we talk about our traditional medicinal herbs, like rosehips, yarrow and mullein, and tell our stories. We continue along the fishing trails to a spot we can overlook the fishing rocks. We have fishers in the camp fishing. Visitors are not permitted to go down onto the rocks, as it’s traditional fishing ground and is very dangerous terrain.
Then, we have a ceremony with burning sage and tobacco in an underground pit home, sometimes with singers and dancers. We tour the archaeology site and move on to the wind-dried salmon demonstration. Everyone gets to try a sample, and later there’s a BBQ salmon meal at the Bearfoot Grill.
A: Can visitors take home the knowledge about how to prepare the salmon?
C: Absolutely! The detailed demonstration shows you how this traditional method has developed. As well as how these teachings are still used today.
But that’s not the only thing you take home. When you leave a tour, you feel more spiritually connected. Learning about the history, the way they’re still carrying on tradition… it brings tears to my eyes to know how strong the St'at'imc people are and the stories that carry on today.
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