The Story The Teacher The Artists Galleries Historical Timeline Media Catalogue Contemporary Research Education

Inkameep Art Education Unit

Background Information: In the words of Mr. Walsh

The Inkameep Indian School
By Anthony Walsh, Teacher

... There then came an opening at the day school at the Inkameep Reserve just south and east of Oliver. Here I started a career that was to last for ten very full and fascinating years of creativity and research...

Catalogue Image: 0095, School Children 1941
[figure 1. Anthony Walsh and students standing outside the school. 194l]
Catalogue Image: 0095

The Inkameep Reserve is in a small valley quite distinct from the main Okanagan Valley, surrounded by high hills and distant mountains. Due to irrigation there were fine meadows of green grass in contrast to the dryness of the sandy soil and the sagebrush. On some of the hills there were examples of rock paintings. These provided a start with art native to the reserve. There were days after the closing of school when pupils and myself would ride off and sketches would be made of these designs, and then transferred to the top of the blackboards of the school. Then after, sketches were made of the designs on bags and moccasins, and so a start was made.

Chief Batiste George was an old man at this time. He had been a man of wisdom and vision. The fine bands of horses and herds of cattle were largely due to his initiative. And he had built up a type of life of value to his people just beginning to feel the impact of the encroachment of another culture. He was ahead of his time in that he wanted his children taught within their own background, not sent away to the residential schools. With persistence, he held to his views and eventually got a small day school established on the reserve. It took about two years for the children to fully accept me. For though I appeared friendly, I was after all a white man. It was generally assumed by adults, and so was accepted by the children that no matter how kind a white man might seem, he was always suspect. This attitude, which is easily understandable, was largely due to the many broken promises of the past, and the greed and disdain.

The parents and the old folk were always courteous. The Chief just wished for one thing, that his children be equipped to be able to hold their own in a white man's world, for he sensed clouds ahead foretelling of storms. It was essential that they should have some understanding of sales and the marketing of fine horses and fattened cattle in the markets and the stockyards of the Coast.

Meanwhile the art studies continued and enriched the more difficult subjects within the curriculum. ...

These rough unfinished sketches [of a particular theme] on pieces of birch bark were then sent off to friends of the school. They were welcomed and acclaimed by the receivers. Then someone suggested that a large picture should be made of the different sketches, and carried out on a piece of buckskin. So the effort became a group project, and then the finished sketches were submitted to the young artists. Between them they chose the one they thought best. (For by this time they had developed sufficiently to appraise each other's work). And the artist, whose work was the most finished, was Francis Baptiste.

His grandmother prepared him a beautiful piece of buckskin. And when he had finished his picture there was much oohing and aahing. . It was to be sent to a competition to the Royal Drawing Society's Exhibit for Commonwealth children to be held in London, England. A few days before it was to be sent away, one of the children had gone to the studio to get some materials. Then came rushing back to the school in great distress and screaming that the bush-tailed rats had chewed holes in Francis's picture. Everyone took flight from their desks as though they were a flock of birds to survey the situation. When I arrived they were holding up the buckskin from which great chunks had been gouged. There was only one thing to do. Get Grandmother to give another piece of buckskin. She did, but it was not as nice as the first one. Within two days time Francis had completed the second picture, then after being carefully packed and insured, it was on its way and just arrived a couple of days ahead of the deadline. After some weeks there came an announcement over the radio that the picture "Inkameep Nativity" had won a Silver Medal, and was going to be taken to Buckingham Palace for the Queen to see.

Then in 1938 a portfolio of the children's drawings and paintings was exhibited by the Junior Red Cross in different capitals throughout Europe. In that same year I took an exhibit of the Inkameep art which was exhibited in London, Paris, and Dublin and at a big exhibition in Glasgow, Scotland.

The next area of importance in connection with the art was when the old Chief agreed to send Francis Baptiste to an Indian Art School at Santa Fe, New Mexico. There he studied for one school year. On his return the Chief built him a studio near to Francis's home. Here he painted many pictures that were sent to different countries throughout the world.


Catalogue Image: 1980-27-1, Anthony Walsh, Inkameep Day School 1942
[figure 2. Inside the classroom]
Catalogue Image: 1980-27-1

...a little fellow by the name of Johnny Stalkia, who had very little English, came to me and said:

"Teacher, me know Indian story."

Then a very strange thing happened, this small boy became like a bear‹for his story was about a bear. And before our eyes the bear walked and rolled and talked in the Okanagan dialect. I was spellbound as were all the other children as they sat enthralled by the ability of one of their own number to portray the actions of an animal so vividly. There flashed through my mind the thought‹here are the elements of drama in which birds and animals act and speak like human beings.

As the children were captivated by the presentation, I did not have too much difficulty in getting further stories. There then came a further development of art forms. Masks were needed. These were made of paper maché of the bird and animal characters. Then stories had to be chosen that had some aspect of dramatization. One very surprising thing emerged in that these children had a certain grace of movement, there was no stiffening from the elbow or knees downward, for both legs and arms flowed. And in these flowing movements there came something very distinctive in the walk, run or crouch of each different portrayal.

....A burst of creativity took place that was breathtaking. A child would tell his story after much coaching by the old people. Others would then make comment and a script would start to take shape. In very crude form, but authentic, small plays came into being.

...The Inkameep children were to write their own version of the Okanagan story of the Hare and the Tortoise, the latter known as a turtle. It was presented at a festival at Penticton. The adjudicator stated that practically every rule of the theatre had been broken, but somehow a very entertaining performance had been produced that was greatly appreciated by a rapt audience.

When this was repeated for the old people, they were amazed. It was played in a superb setting, the sun was descending upon the western mountains, and the vivid green meadow was entrancing against the silver grey of the sagebrush. The smell of the baked earth and the pungency of the sage added to the fantasy of the evening. ...How (the audience) laughed at the antics of the boastful rabbit, and there was a lump in their throats when poor rabbit was humiliated.

The white audience, which included many sophisticated former Europeans, had difficulty in expressing their feelings, except that they had witnessed something essentially Canadian, something they knew was present, but which had always before evaded them. And their sincere appreciation gave to the adult Indian people a kind of seal upon their old culture, that still had the power to amuse and produce awareness and an attempted awareness of something of a people who had forged their own way long before the advent of the white people to the western valleys and mountains.


In all countries throughout the world, and among all people and all ages, songs have been sung of sorrows and joys and happenings of importance in the lives of each of the people. something that was of their very own. ...

(I had a) large gaudy poster of an English thatched cottage with a luxuriant garden in which were many hollyhocks. It was so bright that one was forced to blink. When I held it up for the children to see, there was a kind of stunned surprise and then much exclamation. The interest was heightened when I told them that I was going to give it as a prize to the one who could sing three Okanagan songs, and who sang them the best, and that I would give them two weeks to learn the songs. Much animated chatter followed this announcement. After school and the carrying out of evening chores I would hear snatches of songs and during the weekends as they rode by on different errands, a certain melody would be repeated time and again. I asked no questions but sensed that much effort and practice was underway.

When the fourteenth day arrived there was much suppressed excitement. Then one by one each made a contribution. Some had just one song, a few two, and a still further few, three. Without any question the winner was a small frail child named Irene, maybe she was six or seven, who from birth had a slight disfigurement on her upper lip. In everyday life she was high strung and nervous, but on this occasion she had poise and self-confidence and there was a glow in her eyes as she sang her three songs. Because she was so outstanding, this was an occasion that demanded care and careful communication. There was praise for all the competitors, odd remarks on weaknesses, and much expressed interest in the songs themselves that dealt with many phases of life and of interest. But the prize was for the one who had sung three songs the best. And the only fair conclusion that I could come to was that the singing of Irene Baptiste was of unusual quality. As she came forward to receive this picture of garish coloring no saint could have looked more ecstatic. Then holding it very close, she returned to her seat in wonderment. And for a few days she went about in a world of her own, very far removed from everyday life. But after a time she returned to her normal self and I was able to question her.

"Irene, how was it that you sang those songs so beautifully?"

"Teacher," she said, "When I saw that picture, I wanted it more than anything else in the world. After school I ran as fast as I could and found my Grandma."

"Grandma, you got to teach me Indian songs." Grandma kind of laughed and then she said in a deep voice

"I have not sung Indian songs since I was a little girl like you."

"Grandma try and remember, I'll wash the floor for you, and I'll get the water, I'll help you weed the garden. I'll do anything you ask me, but please teach me Indian songs. Just three Indian songs. She thought for one day, and then sang and sang. And when she got tired, you know what I made her do?"


"I made her whistle.

"Shame on you, for your Grandma has few teeth."

"She just laughed and started to whistle. That is why I sang the songs well, and how I won the prize."

Within a few months we had garnered thirty different songs; some were important ones. One old man, enthused by the interest of the children, gave us a drum; this then formed a background for the singing. Here was another step forward in gaining respect and joy for something that was essentially of their own background, something that no longer need be hid from the critical whites.


[One day] I heard a tapping on the door and some giggling and whispering. I growled "Who is there?"

The door was pushed gently open and there were the three.

"What do you women want?"

There was a flurry; soon they were beside me, all talking at once.

"Teacher we have a dance."


"A butterfly dance."

"I'm busy run along now."

"It's true, Teacher."

For some time the argument went on, but sensing their intensity, which was most rare, I gave way before their determination.

There came a late afternoon when all was quiet, and they insisted their dance was now ready. I tried to evade their pleas, but in vain. Again they stood their ground, and I was forced to give way. I was then dragged down to the rambling creek, told to put my hands over my eyes and not look up until I heard the beat of the drum.

And what a sight greeted my eyes as I looked up at the end of the beat. I could not help but think, how in the long ago, the first dances were seen in such a setting.

There was blue sky overhead, and the swift soaring of an eagle in flight caused a swishing sound. The Saskatoon bushes were full of fragrant white flowers, while a chorus of birds completed the setting. Then an unseen signal must have been given and suddenly there appeared two white butterflies. They had clumsily used the blossoms of blackthorn as wings. With such scant disguise they lost their human form, and with delicate posturing emerged as butterflies, while the beat of the drum was subdued. I was transfixed by such a sight; there before me, created by children of four, five and six, was a true art form.

There then came about the formation of a mock broadcast studio, and for seven minutes every day the schoolroom became the radio station I.N.K. of Inkameep, with most of the youngsters taking turns to act as announcers. From such small beginnings, they were to go on to Vancouver travelling by train for the first time. They produced and carried out a program of their songs, much to the amazement of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) folk who had gone through anxious moments, for they feared mike fright and speechlessness. But they need not have feared, the troupe took things in their stride. And then by a big ship they went through the islands to Victoria to put on their plays and dances and sing their songs before a huge crowd in a park near to the Parliament Buildings.

Many other creative things were to happen, and wherever they went up and down the valleys, they helped to bring understanding and a lessening of prejudice....


Next »» Lesson 1: Petroglyphs and Pictographs
Previous »» Education Unit Introduction