The Switzmalph Cultural Society has for many years been committed to the conservation of the fragile eco-systems of the Shuswap Delta and the Salmon River, through cultural educational programs and the application of traditional ecological knowledge based on the teachings of Secwepemc Elder Dr. Mary Thomas.
Mary Thomas’ work as an environmentalist was colored by her respect for mother nature and her understanding that no more should be taken from the earth than is truly needed—a philosophy she tried to pass on to future generations. She was concerned about preserving and protecting traditional plants so they would be there for future generation, but she was also concerned about broader environmental issues as well—protection of the air, the earth, the water and the animals. And she recognized that all people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, must work together to deal with conservation and environmental issues because everyone, regardless of their cultural background, is equally affected by threats to mother earth.
The Society is working to fulfill Mary’s Thomas’s dream – not only with the restoration and conservation of the Shuswap Delta and Salmon River but also the revitalization of cultural programs at the Mary Thomas Heritage Centre. A new interpretive pavilion and cultural/educational centre will be built this year by the Switzmalph Cultural Society and members of the community, to replace the old school modulars. Displays on the walls of the finished pavilion will showcase the delta restoration work as well as promoting public education and awareness on the importance of sensitive ecosystem health, culturally significant plants, and habitat protection and restoration. In 2016 the Neskonlith Salmon Arm community provided their traditional ecological knowledge to assist in the implementation of a Greenhouse and Indigenous Plant Nursery, cultural Interpretive trails and the restoration of a Traditional Kekuli Village, Smoke House and Sweat Lodge. This is the foundation for Eco-Tourism and Cultural Education Programs that will lead to permanent employment opportunities in 2017 for the local community.
Mary often talked about the deterioration of root digging grounds many years ago: “Everything is deteriorating – the surface of the soil where we used to gather our food, there’s about 4-6 inches of thick, thick sod and all introduced. And on top of that the cattle walk on it, and it’s packing it to the point where there’s very little air goes into the ground, very little rain, and it’s choking out all the natural foods, and it’s going deeper and deeper, and the deeper they go, the smaller they’re getting.”
The Switzmalph Cultural Society has partnered with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on a number of programs to restore areas of the Shuswap Delta-Salmon River on IR#3. Fencing and riparian planting is mitigating the damage caused by cattle over-grazing the Delta meadows and is greatly improving the fish habitat. The Secwepemc Fisheries Commission is currently collaborating with the Society on the installation of willow spilings at five erosion sites identified on the banks of the Salmon River as well as cultural initiatives. Going forward the Society is planning several conservation projects, including an initiative to increase the number of bulrushes in the pond and shoreline areas as the water is cleaner and fish healthier where bulrushes thrive.
These initiatives to restore the salmon habitat and create clear, natural water is helping to reestablish nature’s symbiotic relationships. Healthy salmon corridors provide nutrients for indigenous plants to grow such as the High bush Cranberry, which can be found on the interpretive trail along the river bank and into the traditional village. Black cottonwoods grow along the trail and these are an important habitat for the birds. Birds eat the berries and transport the seeds and thus the regenerative cycle continues.