British Columbia

Indigenous storyteller at Vancouver Public Library shares city's lesser known tales

T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss' new job is all about telling stories.

T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss is a storyteller in residence at the library for 2018

T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss is the newest storytelling in residence at the Vancouver Public Library. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

The Vancouver Public Library has named a new Indigenous storyteller in residence, a role meant to honour the stories of Indigenous communities and promote intercultural understanding.

T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss, an artist and ethno-botanist, who studies plants and their traditional uses, will be holding the role for the year.

Her job is all about telling stories, she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"I'm really excited because, as most people say, it's hard to get me to stop talking. So now I have a platform for the next three months," Wyss said.

Stories to share

During her time in the role, Wyss plans to research in depth the story of Kanaka Ranch, near Vancouver's Stanley Park, where her family began and her diverse heritage in part comes from. 

"[It's] where the Hawaiian and Skwomesh bloodlines mixed and three people, not two, came together — my grandmother had two husbands — and lived at Coal Harbour in a place they built called Kanaka Ranch," she said.

In the late 1700s, even before the Hudson Bay's Company landed on the shores of Hawaii, the people from the Hawaiian islands started coming over in boats and then were later hired for the fur, timber and salmon industries, Wyss said.

Many of them then stayed on the West Coast. "I'm writing the book with my mother who has done research for 30-plus years and I feel like I'm coming in and just tying it together."

Wyss also plans to focus on Skwomesh women.

"There are many things that the women of my nation have done to contribute pre-contact to our community, but post-contact to Vancouver," she said.

Save thousands in fire

Many people don't know stories like the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 that destroyed many parts of the city, Wyss said, and how the Skwomesh women in canoes rescued people trying to escape the flames on the shoreline at Gastown.

"The women just paddled through the night and saved thousands of people and yet it's not a story that is commonly known," she said.

The role of Indigenous storyteller in residence was created in 2008 to use storytelling as a tool to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Wyss says it's a job she's always done.

"I come from many cultures, having a very diverse background, so I've been doing it all my life," she said. "For me, the focus with this is bring those stories together and helping to share those stories."

With files The Early Edition.