October 8, 2019
By Jordan Cryderman
After nearly 100 years, lost artifacts of the Nadleh Whut’en Nation are now home.
The Dunt’enmyoo Bear clan recently hosted a Bahlats for the return of Thomas Cho’s Bear clan blanket and square drum. Going forward, the hope is that this will lead to the return of more artifacts that are currently held outside the region.
In 1924, Taoutil Thomas (Thomas Cho’s traditional name) met Diamond Jenness, a leading anthropologist in Canada. Cho donated every piece of his regalia to Jenness, “from the top of his head to the tips of his toes,” according to Eleanor Nooski, the Nadleh Whut’en Cultural and Language Coordinator. Those artifacts included the Bear clan blanket and drum. It is believed Cho did so with the intention of preserving these traditional items for the future.
Nooski says that “in the future, Nadleh Whut’en would like to have an infrastructure like our own museum… so we can bring all of [Thomas’s] articles home again.” By retrieving the remaining artifacts, it is hoped that they will aid in the retelling of Nadleh’s history.
The recent celebration carried a message of hope, and illustrated the failure of assimilation.
Thomas Sutherland, hereditary chief of the Dunt’enmyoo clan, explained that although his generation was dislocated, the culture remains. “We grew up off reserve, but [now] it’s come full circle. Everything my mom and dad believed in and what they fought for to keep alive is still here. I’ve got my mom’s regalia that she got when she was a 9-year-old, [in] 1930.”
With Thomas Cho’s regalia coming home, the Nadleh identity has been strengthened and families brought together. As Nooski put it, there is “a lot of self-identity within our community. It’s going to be like a family reunion because some of these people don’t even know they are related to each other or…haven’t met in so long.” However, Cho’s influence extends even beyond Nadleh.
To this date, thanks to the hard work of people like Beverly Ketlo, 1868 names have been identified as descendants of Thomas Cho. There was a list of names of all descendants posted at the celebration, and people were able to identify, possibly for the first time in their life, if they were related to Thomas Cho. The celebration was also a means to formally acknowledge the arrival of the regalia, an oral history practice that perseveres.
Oral storytelling is the traditional method of recording history. “We never had pen and paper back in the day,” said Sutherland. “These things were passed on from generation to generation. That’s why the oral history is still here, it’s still alive.”
Sutherland said that Canada was governed by First Nations before Europeans came, and with the return of the blanket and drum, “we have proof that we’re owners of this [land].”
Of course, the First Nation’s way of governance was through the Bahlats system. Although outlawed in the past, the Bahlats system never disappeared, and proves that the Nadleh culture has stood the test of time.
Regarding the Bahlats, Nooski declared, “we are connected as First Nations to each other like a spider web through the whole land…this is our law, and it’s going to be with pride and confidence within the Bear clan because this has come full circle.”
Once everybody was seated for the Bahlats, the regalia entered the room. Silence fell across all the clans. In awe of its arrival, people smiled and shed tears of joy. The drumming and singing that followed ushered in a sense of hope and bliss. Truly, with the return of Thomas Cho’s regalia that day, the Nadleh Whut’en Nation, along with their First Nations neighbors, stood together as one.
Although it took almost a century, Thomas Cho achieved his goal of preserving his traditional regalia for the future. And through all the hardships and trepidations, the Nadleh Whut’en stand tall, and will continue to strengthen with the return of more of its artifacts in the coming years.
For those who would like to view Thomas Cho’s blanket and drum themselves, the regalia will be on display at the Nadleh Whut’en band office. You can contact the office at (250) 690-7211.
A bonus clip of our interview with Eleanor Nooski!
©Carrier Sekani Family Services, 2019.
Last modified: Wednesday 27-Sep-17 04:14:39 PDT