By PHIL VERNON
for Salt Spring Indigenous Signage Project team
On May 17, Penelakut and Salt Spring communities came together to witness the unveiling of new interpretive signage by Fernwood Wharf, and to share a celebratory meal on the lawns of the Fernwood Road Café. The crowd included Penelakut Elders, knowledge keepers and community members, Fernwood School students, and many Salt Spring community members.
Also present were members of the extended Sampson family, descendants of Penelakut Lucy Peatson and Henry Sampson, an early settler at Fernwood.
The two panels, back to back on a cedar frame, explore the historical and current relationship of the Penelakut people to Tl’elhum (Salt Spring Island) and its surrounding waters using art, photographs and testimony. Created under the guidance of the Penelakut Sulxwe’en (Elders group), the panel content is the result of four years of relationship-building between the Penelakut people and the small Salt Spring project team, part of the Salt Spring Island Historical Society and Archives.
On that beautiful day, with a warm sun reflecting on happy faces and a cooling breeze off the water, Augie Sylvester lifted his drum and opened the proceedings with an ancient song. Following a short prayer, the panels were uncovered and James Charlie, chair of the Sulxwe’en, welcomed everyone and spoke from his heart about the importance of the day, the challenges of creating the panels, about truth, and reconciliation.
After the community-created meal, Penelakut Elders shared how much this day meant to them, how they felt welcomed and feasted, and how the panels honoured their story.
The Fernwood panels — born of earlier friendships forged in 2003 when Penelakut and Salt Spring Islanders joined forces to protect an ancient burial site at Walker Hook — also honour the memory of the late Donna Martin. She was instrumental in that earlier (unsuccessful) fight, keeping the Penelakut connections alive through the subsequent protection of Grace Islet. In 2020, when Martin died, her daughter Tara looked for a way to honour her mother, establishing the Donna Martin Legacy Fund to support Indigenous signage at Fernwood and in Ganges.
That fund helped bring this project to completion, as did support from the Salt Spring Island Foundation, Salt Spring Arts Council, Mouat’s Trading and many businesses, organizations and individuals.
The Salt Spring Indigenous Signage Project continues under the auspices of the Salt Spring Island Historical Society and the dedicated creative team. Watch for the coming four panels in Ganges highlighting shared usage of the area and the voices of elders and youth from the SENĆOŦEN and Hul’q’umi’num’-speaking nations. Expect to see them in late summer or early fall.