Video: New faces to emerge from the forest in Salmon Arm’s Little Mountain Park

Métis carver and elder John Sayer works at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Thursday, Nov. 19, helping students learn to carve and sharing his culture, while teacher Robin Wiens and student William Dicer try their hand at carving. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)Métis carver and elder John Sayer works at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Thursday, Nov. 19, helping students learn to carve and sharing his culture, while teacher Robin Wiens and student William Dicer try their hand at carving. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Métis carver and elder John Sayer works at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Thursday, Nov. 19, helping students learn to carve and sharing his culture, while, in background, student William Dicer hones his carving skills. The masks pictured will be placed on trees in Little Mountain Park as part of a student project. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)Métis carver and elder John Sayer works at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Thursday, Nov. 19, helping students learn to carve and sharing his culture, while, in background, student William Dicer hones his carving skills. The masks pictured will be placed on trees in Little Mountain Park as part of a student project. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
On Nov. 19, Salmon Arm Storefront School teacher Robin Wiens talks about the story tree, a project that students created and stands inside the school. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)On Nov. 19, Salmon Arm Storefront School teacher Robin Wiens talks about the story tree, a project that students created and stands inside the school. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Student William Dicer works on his carving of a raven at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Nov. 19, 2020, under the direction of Métis carver John Sayer. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)Student William Dicer works on his carving of a raven at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Nov. 19, 2020, under the direction of Métis carver John Sayer. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm Storefront School teacher Robin Wiens and Métis carver and elder John Sayer, who teaches carving at the school, move some of the students’ carving projects on Nov. 19, 2020. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)Salmon Arm Storefront School teacher Robin Wiens and Métis carver and elder John Sayer, who teaches carving at the school, move some of the students’ carving projects on Nov. 19, 2020. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Métis carver and elder John Sayer works at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Thursday, Nov. 19, helping students learn to carve and sharing his culture, while, in background, student William Dicer hones his carving skills. The masks pictured will be placed on trees in Little Mountain Park as part of a student project. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)Métis carver and elder John Sayer works at the Storefront School in Salmon Arm on Thursday, Nov. 19, helping students learn to carve and sharing his culture, while, in background, student William Dicer hones his carving skills. The masks pictured will be placed on trees in Little Mountain Park as part of a student project. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Out of a piece of birch or the bark of a cottonwood tree emerges a face, a face that will keep a watchful eye over visitors to a Salmon Arm park.

Métis elder John Sayer worked in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District for more than two decades. Since his ‘retirement’ a few years ago, he has returned once a week to the Storefront School in Salmon Arm to create carvings and connect with students.

The most recent project for Sayer and the school involves carvings sometimes called ‘wood spirits.’ Sayer has been creating the long, narrow faces carved into the wood of fallen trees for several years. Although he sells them, they accumulate. In Europe, he said, wood spirits taken into your home are supposed to be good luck as you’re taking nature into your house.

In collaboration with school staff, it was decided that students could attach a variety of the small carvings to the trees in Little Mountain Park (using ceramic screws so as not to harm the trees).

Sayer explained that when his grandson was at Shuswap Middle School, his class would go once a week for a walk through the park. Sayer and his wife also enjoyed walks there. So when he was selling his carvings at the local farmers market, people would tell him there’s a place in Terrace called Fairy Island that has carvings of faces along a walkway.

“So I thought maybe we should do that here… The students could have a tie to Little Mountain,” he said.

In a letter to city council, Storefront staff spoke of how invaluable the carving program with Sayer has been to the school, and requested permission to put up the carvings. Council supported the request.

“Installing these carvings would be a great way to bring some indigenous culture to the local trail system and would help our students build connections and ownership of their community…,” said the letter.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond said she thought it was an important project with a well-known and respected artist.

Mayor Alan Harrison agreed.

“They will peek out from the trees. It will be something further to look at as you go through the park to see if you can see them.”

In keeping with his Métis heritage, some of the faces Sayer creates are Indigenous while others, European.

He explains some of the European faces are equipped with pipes, as the pipe is part of Canada’s history that’s been forgotten.

It goes back to the fur trade, he said, where a pipe was a measure of distance.

The voyageurs would hang their pipes around their necks as they paddled. Everybody smoked back then, he said. Every two hours they’d stop and fill up their pipe.

“If you asked them how far is Kamloops, it would be two days and three pipes. They knew how long it was going to take.”

On the day of the interview, Storefront teacher Robin Wiens explained that the large round table sitting in the centre of the classroom was made by Sayer and students.

“John has the position of elder with the school district, but his position here is very much sitting around the table sharing stories while students are carving and asking questions.”

It’s very informal and welcoming, Wiens said.

Read more: Salmon carving gets facelift

Read more: Poetry collection preserves Indigenous knowledge

On this day, just two students are participating in the carving program as some went on a school field-trip.

Jayden Currie appreciates carving and the other things he has learned from Sayer.

“I think it’s really cool. I think it gives people an opportunity to do something with their hands that’s not school work, you get to learn how to do it.”

He said he has also enjoyed learning about Métis culture.

Student William Dicer said he’s new at working with wood but he finds it exciting.

“It’s good to be able to take a break and just work on something – turning nothing into something. It’s really, really cool.”

As a child, John Sayer, who grew up in the Lower Mainland, saw the worst of the school system.

“So I could draw and they would put my drawing up on the wall, but they still called me retarded and slow and backwards and delayed, because when I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I counted 11 elementary schools before Grade 3. I failed Grade 1, I failed Grade 3, and I was failing Grade 5 I think it was, and that was the end of school. By the time you’ve failed three times, they figure you’re lost.”

He remembers Grade 3, where he spent most of his time hiding in the bush.

“I hated school and I hated the teacher and the teacher didn’t like me…”

Read more: Students create graphic novel

Read more: Shuswap aboriginal grad marks milestone

Those terrible school experiences are what prompted Sayer to return to the education system.

“Some teachers in those days would say, ‘well you have the same opportunity I did,‘ but what they don’t understand is you don’t have the same opportunities. And we don’t have the same experiences.

“So getting to go back and educate the educators on what it’s like to be that kid was pretty rewarding. They get to see it from the other side.”

As do many of the students he has interacted with over the years.

“Coming back, knowing what I went through and what other kids went through, when you tell them the story, they know they’re not alone.

“It’s not something you’ve read in a book…, you don’t train for that, it’s reality.”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

ArtOutdoorsSalmon Arm council

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vernon Vipers defeated the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-1 to secure the top spot in the BC Hockey League Vernon pod Friday, May 7, 2021. (Lisa Mazurek Photography)
VIDEO: Vipers beat Salmon Arm, clinch top spot in BCHL Vernon pod

Goaltender James Porter Jr. was a wall for the Vipers, who outscored the Silverbacks 3-1 Friday

VSAR’s Air Rescue One unit assisted in a rescue in West Kelowna May 3, 2021. (VSAR screenshot)
VIDEO: VSAR’s Air Rescue One team assists in West Kelowna Rescue

The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter team pulled off a successful rescue Monday

A proposed development would see two four-storey affordable housing complexes erected on Adair Street in Armstrong, next to the Nor-Val Arena. (Google Maps)
Local tenants to be prioritized for Armstrong affordable housing project

Staff have drafted an expression of interest to find a developer to move forward with on the project

Cops for Kids riders will be spinning 30 feet in the air on scissor lifts at SaveOn Foods locations in Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna Saturday, May 8, 2021. (File photo)
Cops reach new heights for Okanagan kids

Nor-Val Rentals is doing the heavy lifting Saturday in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kelowna OK Tire closed due to COVID-19 exposure

The business will remain closed until May 11

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Coronavirus 3D illustration. (CDC photo)
Two South Okanagan businesses closed due to COVID-19

The businesses are listed on the Interior Health website

Most Read