BC Culture Days: “Legends that Teach”

BC Culture Days is a series of province-wide events taking place from September 24 to October 24, 2021, that celebrates the arts, culture and storytelling. The month-long hybrid celebration has something to offer for all arts and culture lovers — from virtual and in-person tours of heritage sites to ventriloquism and musical performances. It also offers more hands-on activities like acrylic painting and even the opportunity to create your very own ring with the help of the Richmond Gem and Mineral society. There are both virtual events that can be attended from the comfort of your homes and immersive in-person events.

Each year, up to ten artists from across the province are selected to present a project that is personal to them. They collaborate with an experienced mentor who closely works with them in creating their project and developing their artistic aspirations. Ambassadors also promote BC Culture Days by acting as spokespersons for the event. Dr. Billy Cohen, an assistant professor in the UBC Okanagan school of education has been selected to be a mentor to Ambassador Kenthen Thomas for one of this year's BC Culture Days events.

Cohen researches the transforming potential of Indigenous, Interior Salish and Syilx-Okanagan knowledge and pedagogy through organic language and cultural knowledge revitalization.

His mentee, Thomas is a teacher by profession and also works towards integrating indigeneity into the educational system. Thomas is also an actor and has been around almost the entirety of Western Canada sharing stories of his Secwepemulucw ancestors.

For BC Culture Days, Thomas wishes to demonstrate the beauty and value of storytelling through stories called “Legends That Teach.” In an interview with The Ubyssey, he talked about how, all through life, people are given instructions on how not to behave and what not to do without any real explanations or examples. He says that in the legends and stories told by his ancestors, “they don’t tell you this is what you need to do, or this will happen, instead, they show you.” According to Thomas, we learn lessons and values through the stories told by our ancestors in ways that simple directions and instructions just cannot replicate. “[The] words of [our] ancestors [are] more than just words, . . . they are lessons,” he said.

Cohen echoed Thomas’s sentiments and spoke about the value of thinking of “traditional stories as wisdom of our ancestors . . . being carried forward.”

“We're never going into the past, but we're carrying over knowledge that has relevance and application now, and . . . what these stories do is they connect us to place [and] they connect us to all of the natural biodiversity specific places,” said Cohen. He added that the legends talk about “cultural and ecological diversity” and make us more aware of our responsibilities towards the environment and the future generations to come.

The theme of this year's BC Culture Days Event is RE:IMAGINE, imagining “a post-pandemic world brightened through creative exploration and artistic expression.” Thomas spoke about how humans have always considered themselves as belonging at the top of the food chain and being in a superior position than all other life on planet Earth. He referred to the phrase “X7’engst” meaning that the land will turn on you. He views all the natural disasters, and even the COVID-19 pandemic, as nature’s way of giving back thousands of years of mistreatment. He says that now, we all must “[look] beyond our human selves [and] . . . [see] ourselves as part of the circle.” Through “Legends that Teach,” he aims to urge everyone to REIMAGINE their positions with respect to other life on Earth and strive towards coexisting and tackling the problems that we are facing together. Cohen added that things do not have to always remain the way they are and together we can “imagine something better . . . [and] more balanced.”

When asked about Cohen and his mentorship with him, Thomas mentioned how he has found a kindred spirit in Cohen. He said, “ It’s just awesome to know that Billy is down South . . . and feeling and expressing the same passion that I have for the . . . legends and the words of the ancestors.” Cohen was very appreciative of Thomas and his work as a storyteller and performer and also reminisced about how he had once attended workshops conducted by Thomas’s grandmother.

Thomas encourages all “artistic souls” to apply for the ambassador program as it is “a great way to learn how to market and promote yourself and how to find the words to describe what you're doing.”

“As a performing artist, a few years ago I had a hard time describing myself . . . [and had] trouble finding [the] verbs to encompass that. [The ambassador program] helped me find more tools to speak to things like that,” said Thomas.

For more information about this year’s exciting lineup of events, check out BC Culture Days.