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Sepass, Chief William (K'HHalserten)
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Chief William Sepass (K'HHalserten) was the last of the great orators; a storyteller, a philosopher and a spiritual person, carefully selected and trained as a young boy to carry the traditional teachings of his culture, the knowledge of his lands, and the stories and songs of the beginning of the world and how the lands were shaped by the emotions and adventures of mankind upon the earth. He was born at Kettle Falls, Washington but migrated with his tribe into the Chilliwack and Fraser Canyon area of British Columbia after an epidemic. He was leader of what is now known as the Skowkale First Nation or Chilliwack tribe.
The Department of Indian Affairs encouraged Sepass to act as a spokesman for the Indigenous peoples, which included representing the Stó:lo people to the 1913 Royal Commission over land claims. Sepass was a skilled canoe-maker and hunter famous for his speaking ability. He was also a dairy farmer and part of the Native Farmers Association. Surviving the devastating effects of western diseases, witnessing the influx of European settlers, two world wars, the automobile, the iron lung, telephone, running water and the Indian residential schools, Chief Sepass witnessed the demise of his culture and language. He knew that these teachings would not survive in their original oral tradition.
He saw the different priests of the newly formed churches come and go, but they always read from the same book. He noticed these stories from the Bible being given great respect and ceremony. It was this method (a written form) that Chief Sepass saw as the only way to save these priceless poems for his people; that knowing them, his people would remember their greatness for all time.
These stories, widely heard at the annual summer sun ceremonies and gatherings, were always told in the Coast Salish language. Over four years (1911-1915), they were meticulously translated, recited and recorded and transcribed in English, with the assistance of Sophia Jane White, the daughter of a Wesleyan Methodist missionary.
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