Siyamtelot (Shirley Leon) will be showcasing the work of the Aboriginal Genealogy Society at a cultural circle on April 4.                                 (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Siyamtelot (Shirley Leon) will be showcasing the work of the Aboriginal Genealogy Society at a cultural circle on April 4. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Aboriginal Genealogy Society aims to nurture closeness, history at Agassiz event

The society will be holding a cultural circle at St. Anthony’s on Thursday, April 4

On April 4, members of the Aboriginal Genealogy Society will take over the church hall at St. Anthony’s Parish in Agassiz, with the goal of helping people around the Fraser Canyon discover their history.

“We started a few years ago because so many of our people that were brought up in foster homes or adopted had lost their roots,” said 82-year-old Siyamtelot (Shirley Leon).

“They were adults and starting to have children of their own so they needed to know where they belonged” and if their family had any history of disease.

The Sts’ailes woman became part of the Aboriginal Genealogy Society when she retired as a way to help those people research their family histories — “that was a good thing for retirement (to) still be useful” — but her own genealogy studies had begun more than 40 years ago.

Siyamtelot was a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, and was born on Skookum Mine Trail. Just a few yards away was a creek named after her maternal grandfather: Bradley Creek.

“I thought, maybe there’s an omen here. Let’s see what it is,” she said.

Research led her to an old newspaper article, which said he died in 1999. Then, she found two death records: one saying he died at the age of 43, and another saying he died at 50. A trip to the Pleasant Valley Cemetery yielded a number, but no marked grave.

“All I really want is a picture,” Siyamtelot said. She had found the number of a family connected to her grandfather, but they hadn’t wanted to talk.

“It was just a young fellow, might have been a high school student,” she said. “He said, ‘We’re just leaving, we haven’t got the time.’ And he just hung up.

“I guess it wasn’t the time,” she added. “But some people don’t want to talk about their relatives, especially if it’s with First Nations.”

RELATED: Students bring reconciliation to residential school survivors

Siyamtelot’s struggle to find information about her grandfather isn’t unusual — records are often few and far between, held in B.C.’s vital statistics database or in church ledgers. But Siyamtelot said making the effort is important.

“The more people talk about their hurts, the more they can find solutions,” she said.

“We (at the Aboriginal Genealogy Society) don’t claim to be professional counsellors or anything, (we just provide) the opportunity to have people gather in a more positive environment.”

The society has between 20 and 30 volunteers based out of the Mission Library. Over the course of the year see hundreds of individuals, both in the Fraser Canyon and outside the province, who want help to find their families.

The group’s Facebook page is also very active, posting photos of Indigenous people and families, and asking the public to help in identifying them.

Because the society is volunteer-only, there has been some difficulty in making people aware of their services. But a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors fund is helping.

Thanks to the grant, the society will be hosting a cultural circle at St. Anthony’s Parish (7237 Morrow Rd). The society will be sharing a bit about what they do, and also inviting the public to ask questions about their past.

RELATED: Breathing life into Halq’eméylem

“We don’t want to keep it controlled,” Siyamtelot said. We want “to make it more open so people will get that feeling back again of what it’s like to interact with people and visit.”

Right now, Siyamtelot is hoping to keep participation down to about 25 people, so the society will have enough volunteers to make sure everyone feels welcome. But they want to make sure the event is open to the entire community, including local historians and youth.

“Our vision is that we will not only get First Nations but the public,” Siyamtelot said.

“People that do their own research, like high school (students), they learn so much more when they’re scanning through the books and they recognize a name.”

“It’s enlightening. It’s motivational.”

The Agassiz event, which will take place on Thursday, April 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is the first of what Siyamtelot hopes will turn into several different cultural circles across the Fraser Canyon.

But for now, Siyamtelot said she hopes this first event will inspire people to look deeper into their past.

“I firmly believe it’s knowing yourself,” she said. “To be able to know where you want to go in life.”



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

poster
Drop-in Covid vaccine clinic in Mission June 17-18

Neighbourhood clinics complement appointment-based clinics currently operating in Mission

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

(Black Press Media files)
Get ready for mosquito season

Fraser Valley Regionsl District has already taken measures to curb the number of mosquitos

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read