The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

August 02, 2012 09:00 ET

Virtual Exhibition Celebrates Long-Lost Ancestor's Return

Man Turned to Stone: T'xwelatse brings to life a remarkable story of loss and repatriation. At its heart is a message of collaboration and cooperation between cultures and communities.

ABBOTSFORD, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Aug. 2, 2012) - The women's faces draw attention to the centre of the gallery space, radiant against black backgrounds. They wear braided cedar bark headbands and serious yet warm expressions--bright eyes, soft mouths and a proud demeanour. Who are these fifteen Elders whose large-scale photo portraits are suspended in a semicircle, and who is in their midst?

In their own language, Halq'eméylem, they are Ye Selsí:sele, the Grandmothers. From First Nations on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, they are the guardians and current caretakers of an ancestor named T'xwelátse, a responsibility they inherited from their own mothers and grandmothers. By carrying out this responsibility, they demonstrate an important Stó:lō principle that translates as "This is our land. We have to take care of everything that belongs to us."

These photo portraits were part of a unique multimedia exhibition mounted at The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford in spring 2011 that is now available in print and in an online exhibition. Man Turned to Stone: T'xwelátse tells the story of this distant ancestor, the first man of the Ts'elxwéyeqw (Chilliwack) Tribe of the Stó:lō people. The people say that T'xwelátse was transformed to stone as a lesson to his descendants about how to live properly--how to get along with one another. The book and website take this message beyond museum walls to a global audience.

After the arrival of newcomers in their territory, the Stó:lō suffered many losses. One example was the loss of T'xwelátse in the 1890s. He ended up in Seattle, Washington, housed and occasionally displayed in the Burke Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Beginning in the early 1990s, his extended family began efforts to bring their ancestor home, across the international border. These efforts culminated in October 2006 with the repatriation of T'xwelátse under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

This part of T'xwelátse's story was documented in Storyboard for a Repatriation, a hand-written "scroll" over 1 metre high and more than 6 metres long. It can be viewed on the website, along with interpretive text, images and three films: a video tour of the exhibition; Written in Stone, an aerial survey of Stó:lō territory showing other Transformer features; and the documentary T'xwelátse Is Finally Home. These multimedia elements make the online exhibition particularly rich.

The museum exhibition was unusual in that it combined contemporary visual art and a historical narrative. It also involved unprecedented collaboration between cultures and communities. According to the book's introduction, "The exhibition was a collaborative effort that recognized and directly involved the T'xwelátse family as co-producers."

Adds Scott Marsden, Curator of The Reach Gallery Museum, "The exhibition offered a unique opportunity to invite the kind of participation and dialogue through which First Nation and non-Native communities can engage in the ongoing construction of social meaning." In other words, "learn to live together in a good way."

To view the website, please visit Limited copies of the publication (72 pp., full colour, large-format softcover) can be purchased through The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford ( To download a free copy of the book as a PDF file (25 MB), please go to


The Reach is a centre of cultural and creative innovation in the central Fraser Valley. The gallery is committed to preserving and sharing stories of the area's rich and diverse cultural heritage and showcasing the best in the visual arts from both inside and outside the community. As a Category "A" facility, the gallery hosts travelling exhibitions from other regional, national and international institutions.


The centre is home to seasoned experts who provide a range of professional and technical services with an understanding of, and respect for, Stó:lō protocols. They maintain strong research ties to local universities and consulting firms. Services include archaeological, cultural and environmental resource management, archival access and research, and GIS mapping.

To view the photo accompanying this press release, click on the following link:

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