Casual Country 2020: A cultural oasis

Xat’sull Heritage Village will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Xat’sull Heritage Village will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Cheryl Chapman (left) poses with Ralph Phillips and Roxanne Pop at Xat’sull Heritage Village (Rebecca Dyok photo)Cheryl Chapman (left) poses with Ralph Phillips and Roxanne Pop at Xat’sull Heritage Village (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Cheryl Chapman stands at the popular Xat'sull Heritage Lookout that was recently reconstructed. Chapman said the lookout was originally built by community members and contractor Darren Russell. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
After a late start to the 2020 tourism season, Xat’sull Heritage Village was anticipated to have welcomed visitors until mid-October. (Rebecca Dyok photo)After a late start to the 2020 tourism season, Xat’sull Heritage Village was anticipated to have welcomed visitors until mid-October. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Nestled on a plateau overlooking the Fraser River, the history of the Northern Secwepemc people is on full display at Xat’sull Heritage Village.

For more than two decades, the community of Xat’sull (pronounced hat-sull) has shared their spiritual, cultural and traditional way of life with visitors who can participate in a variety of activities and even stay in a teepee or pit house at their national, award-winning heritage village north of Williams Lake.

Providing tours for the majority of those years is 82-year-old Ralph Phillips.

“I was the first tour guide that was ever here, and I didn’t know what the heck to do,” Phillips admitted.

At the time Phillips was a councillor with the Soda Creek Indian Band and was working as their drug and alcohol counsellor — a role where he learned more about his culture through working with and meeting fellow First Nations people.

“I asked the Chief who was going to be the tour guide and he said I was, so that was that, and that’s where it started,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking about that these last couple of years. I don’t even remember what I told the people but it must have been alright because I’m still here,” Phillips added with a laugh.

Before opening in the summer of 1994, Soda Creek Indian Band (SCIB) community economic development and employment co-ordinator Cheryl Chapman recalled how she was working at the Cariboo Friendship Society in Williams Lake when Sam Moody and German immigrants Bettina Egert and Thomas Schoen approached Jim Edgar a few years prior.

Read More: New lookout on the way for First Nations heritage village in Cariboo

They were keen about developing a First Nations cultural tourism village at Bella Coola which, at the time, wasn’t ready for it, she said, suggesting they talk to SCIB.

“We always talked about culture and talked about bringing it back — rescuing it,” Chapman said, noting she thought it would be a great idea to have a venue for her aunt who was fluent in their native language to be able to share it with all of them.

With consultations and negotiations beginning in 1992, not everyone was thrilled with the idea, although it would eventually go through with the support of Chief Lenny Sellars.

Community members played a key role in the development of the village, and Chapman recalled fondly a time when staff shut down the band office so everyone in the community could assist in constructing pithouses.

“You could feel the energy and the healing that happened with all of us, and it created a sense of place and a sense of home,” Chapman said.

Located by the Fraser River, Chapman would find herself escaping to the heritage village to sing to the river and pray when things got stressful at the band office in which she served as councillor after having been elected in 2001.

“That’s the beauty of this place,” she said. “It keeps you connected to the river, the land and our spirit.”

As Chapman eyes what — if any —celebrations will take place for Xat’sull Heritage Village’s 25th anniversary, pre-booked tours had continued this year until mid-October after a late start due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“If I’m alive I’ll probably be around,” Phillips said lightheartedly of 2021.

Over the years, Phillips’ own grandchildren have worked alongside him eager to learn more about their own cultural identity and sharing it with others.

“I wanted to learn more just about where my people were from and how everything worked back then,” said 22-year old Roxanne Pop, who has been assisting for six years.

Read More: Trap training hoped to address overabundance of beavers near Williams Lake

“That’s why I started but I kind of just kept going because I really like talking to people, and I really like

sharing what I have learned throughout those years with other people.”

Pop credits Phillips and other Elders who would attend the heritage village for the knowledge she has gained.

“Getting to work down here, talking to the people and finding out those little bits that I didn’t know previously it was just very rewarding for me and also being able to work alongside my grandfather,” she said.

Phillips, who does not speak his native language, said it was partially due to the Canadian government, as well

as himself for “not having enough respect to look after that.”

His grandmother, who could speak their native language fluently, spent 10 years in residential school.

“For a lot of years I said that the government robbed us, but it was something that happened and now looking back you see that it was because I was trying to find something else,” Phillips said, noting he did not have respect for himself at the time.

“I thought there was something better but now I find out that living the old way is a hell lot better than we’re living now.”

hr width=“75%”>

Do you have a comment about this story? email:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

IndigenousWilliams Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lotte Obergfell at the age of 21. (Photo submitted)
Smart 55: Lotte Obergfell of Williams Lake will celebrate her 100th birthday on March 10

She still feels healthy but never imagined she’d reach this milestone

The wind has been gusting Friday, March 5 in Williams Lake with the risk of a thunderstorm in the forecast for later in the afternoon. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
More than 500 customers in Cariboo without power, risk of thunderstorm Friday afternoon

The BC Hydro map is adding more power outages as the afternoon unfolds

The two suspects arrested south of 150 Mile House Tuesday, March 2, following a high-speed chase with the RCMP have been charged. (Will Roberts photo)
High-speed chase suspects charged, remain in custody after arrest south of Williams Lake

John Craig and Maggie M. Higgott appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court March 4

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Most Read