Book ‘digs up’ native stories

June 5, 2017

I majored in history (or ‘herstory’ as I sometimes called it in order to emphasize that women have contributed equally to our past) at University of Winnipeg where I received my Bachelor (Bachelorette?) of Arts.

It was in those years, at the end of the 1970s, that I realized it is important for us to know about the past in order to carry forward what was good about it and to build on that positive as well as to try to avoid repeating what is negative in our history.

Reading women’s stories from the past help us learn from the female perspective so that we have a more complete understanding of how we should progress. The following article focuses on a compilation of stories that help fill in the gaps:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

May 21, 20??

Book ‘digs up’ native stories

by Tanya Lester

The story of retrieving important work done by two Chemainus-area women was the focus of author Chris Arnett’s talk at the Salt Spring Historical Society (SSHS) annual general meeting last week.

The Salt Spring writer told a 40-member audience at Central Hall that he spent a decade putting the stories told in the 1930s — mostly by Mary Rice, a Coast Salish noble woman who was born on Kuper Island — into book form.

The result is Two Houses Half Buried in Sand: Oral Traditions of the Hul’qumi’num’ Coast Salish of Kuper Island and Vancouver Island by Beryl Mildred Cryer, compiled and edited by Chris Arnett and published by Talon Books. It was launched at the SSHS meeting.

Arnett explained the title by focusing on the book’s cover photograph of a long-house and a neighbouring dwelling half buried in sand on Kuper Island as a metaphor for the Rice stories being “buried” in boxes at the BC Archives.

Rice, a midwife and seer who could intuit into the past and the future, was interviewed by Beryl Cryer, a Chemainus journalist. Cryer wrote the 60 unabbreviated stories for The Daily Colonist. Arnett pointed out that the Victoria newspaper gave the pieces submitted by this “gifted writer” a prominent place in many issues of its Sunday edition.

Arnett said the pieces range from one explaining the origins of the Coast Salish, who were “born out of the sky during a huge thunderstorm” to “a man who could charm fish with a rattle and charmed them from others he was in disagreement with.”

Born in New Zealand to an upper-class British family, Cryer’s interest in native story telling probably stemmed from her childhood connection to the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides movement. Cryer’s family, who arrived in Chemainus in the 1890s, had such strong ties with the Coast Salish that Cryer’s father, who was a police officer, is shown posing in a photograph of a potlatch at a time when the Canadian government had outlawed the practice.

Arnett said researching native land claims was also against the law. This, he believes, is what motivated Rice and other natives to want to tell the Coast Salish stories to Cryer when they were approached by the writer. Key elements of the native culture were extremely endangered by the legislation of the time.

It was to Cryer’s advantage that although she could not speak the Natives’ language, she could understand it. Being paid for the articles by the column inch also probably provided this “gifted writer” with the added financial incentive to record the stories without paraphrasing, said Arnett.

Cryer had wanted to publish the stories in a book and communicated with a museum curator concerning this possibility. The curator eventually turned the newspaper clippings glued onto foolscap over to the provincial archives.

Arnett “discovered” them when reading a university masters’ paper that made references to the stories.


Tanya now works as a psychic doing tea leaf readings, tarot, psychic channeling, mediumship and gypsy card readings. She is also a reiki master and fulltime housesitter. To find out more and to access her services, go to her website at or contact her directly at her email: or text or call her at 250-538-0086.

Tanya’s book are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reading and Friends I Never Knew that are available from or from the author. She also wrote Dreams and Tricksters as well as Women Rights/Writes. These books are available in some public libraries.

To read more posts on this blog of eclectic previously published stories and other writing, go to and


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