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Witnesses called back to help protect Sims Valley

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With Interfor due to start logging cut-block 72-4 in the Sims Valley any day now, Hereditary Chief Bill Williams (telálsem k in/, slyam) of the Squamish Nation is inviting all participants in the Witness programs to return to the valley for a special ceremony this Saturday, April 28.

All participants are asked to take part in a sacred 8,000 year old ceremony known as a texwaya7ni7m (tach way natum) to support preservation of the valley. This is the first time in B.C. that native and non-native people will gather for this traditional Coast Salish Ceremony.

"This is an aboriginal cultural event that cannot be ignored," says Chief Williams. "Our tradition has standing."

When matters of historical relevance that take place inside the Longhouse are challenged, witnesses are called back to verify the past events. According to Williams, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized this Squamish First Nation system of governance in 1997 when handing down the Delgamukkw decision. The judges ruled that aboriginal land title does exist and that governments have to negotiate seriously with First Nations when dealing with land claims.

When the Squamish Nation approached Interfor about saving the Sims Valley for traditional uses, an employee questioned whether there was any interest in the area to warrant its protection.

"We are calling the witnesses back because they have already demonstrated that they are interested in the area. They will be invited back to speak about what that interest is," says Williams.

Since the Witness program began in 1996, more than 5,000 people have participated. Over 1,500 people have participated in Witness camping weekends and ceremonies in the Sims Valley over the past four summers.

The ceremonies included everything from traditional story telling sessions to information sessions to sessions on tradition plants.

Featured speakers at the texwaya7ni7m include Chief Williams, photographer Nancy Bleck – the first Artist in Residence at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver – and mountaineer and naturalist John Clark.

Clark has explored more than 10,000 square kilometres of the Coast Mountain Range, making hundreds of treks and dozens of first ascents. He currently works with the public school board in Vancouver and Richmond, showing wilderness slide shows. His commitment to the land has earned him the respect of the Squamish Nation, which adopted him into the Nation at a Witness ceremony in 1998.

While Interfor agreed to halt logging operations in the Upper Elaho until Squamish First Nations could settle their land claims in that area, the agreement did not extend to the nearby Sims Valley.

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