On calling Kamloops by its true name

There is a history of Tk’emlúps before colonization and before the settlers came, writes Secwépemc storyteller Kenthen Thomas.
Kenthen Thomas laughs at a summer gathering
Kenthen Thomas, a storyteller from the Secwépemc Nation, tells stories near Lower Adams River at Tsútswecw Provincial Park in October 2021. Photo by Kristal Burgess/Culture Days

This learning was originally published in newsletter format and has been reformatted for our website. A second story, “Coyote, Tk’emlúps and the Kukpi7 tree,” can be found here.


My name is Kenthen Thomas. I’m a storyteller from the Secwépemc Nation. I was born in Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc and lived most of my life in an area known as Sxwesméllp [Swits-malph], Salmon Arm. 

Part of growing up here was understanding our connection with the land, Secwépemc’ulucw [suh-WHEP-muhc-em-cooluc], and the stories. The creators of these stories have always been known as the ancestors of the Secwépemc’ulucw. There are many people who have taught me them, people as old as 88 years old and as young as 11, including my son Susep Soulle, who is a great singer and a fluent language speaker. My parents are Phyllis and Gerry Thomas. My partner Melissa has two children named Tristan and Lexus. 

I’ll tell you why we introduce ourselves in this way. One, it’s about respect. Respecting our listeners, respecting ourselves, respecting the young ones, the people yet to come and our future Knowledge Keepers and sharers. They are the true owners of this knowledge. And it’s to acknowledge that we only know what we know. We can only teach what we can teach.

 I’d like to share some knowledge with you. And I’ll tell you why.  When my son was in Grade 8, he sang a song in front of the whole school all by himself. His buddies were supposed to sing with him but they backed out. After they saw his confidence and willingness to share, they joined him and they sang all together. Later that night, I asked him, ‘Why did you do that?’

He hesitated for a second, and he goes, ‘Someone said to me that if you have a song or a story, it’s your responsibility to share it. If you know the traditions and the knowledge of our ancestors, then it’s your duty to share them.’ 

I listened to that, and was like, ‘Holy smokes, he is wise beyond his years!’ So I’ve always held that. Gone is the time when we needed to keep this knowledge to ourselves and die with it because we didn’t want a non-Indigenous person to take it. Now we need to start sharing the little knowledge that we have. And that’s what I’ll be doing.

The thing about Tk’emlúps [teh-KUM-lups] and the Secwépemc’ulucw [suh-KWE-pem-cooluc], is that there’s a history before colonization, before the settlers came. We had a society. We had our own governance. We had our own way of doing things. 

Traditionally this region was a really strong focal point of my ancestors because it’s the meeting place of two waters. It was a strong meeting point for leadership and governance. Creation stories begin here. It’s a place for our spirituality, our ways of knowing and being.

When settlers came, they kind of made it their place. They took the names that were already existing, and they gave them their own names.

A perfect example of that is the mountain that sits right over top of Salmon Arm, we call it Kela7scen [KEL-ah-skin]. Shushwap is a name that arose because settlers couldn’t say Secwe̓pemc [suh-WHEP-muhc]. And Kamloops is a name that arose because settlers couldn’t say Tk’emlúps. Maybe Kela7scen was too hard to say, too.

All these names got anglicized. Over a hundred years ago, someone came along and just decided to give it another name because they either so-called discovered it or they were just too lazy to sit and learn how to pronounce it in the proper way.

Reconciliation is about two sides coming back together and working through their difficulties and everything that separated them in the first place. When you keep on saying Kamloops instead of the true name of Tk’emlúps, you’re denying that history. You’re denying that anything ever existed before you came along.

Like if someone came up and called me KT Instead of saying Kenthen, yeah, I would find it a little offensive. I would say, ‘Please call me by my name. My entire name.’ If you’re looking to move toward reconciliation, then do what’s right and say it the right way.

There are a lot of Secwépemc stories that connect to Tk’emlúps. These Stseptékwll [SCHIP-ka-ugh], stories or legends, are laws that teach how we are to conduct ourselves, how we’re to behave.

You, the listener, are just as important as the storyteller. Because without the listener, there’s no reason for the story to be told. You will hear the lesson that you need to hear. And for this reason, the stories are as relevant now, if not more, than before.

I’d like to share with you the story about how Coyote made a tree fall in love with him and how this connects Tk’emlúps to all of humanity.

Kukwstsétsemc [cooks-CHECH-em] for sitting with me and listening as I share this little bit of knowledge that I have.

Editor’s Note: The pronunciations provided are meant to serve as a guide to help you recognize the words and try to say them properly. Secwepemctsín (the language of the Secwépemc) has different dialects and pronunciations. Many of these sounds are not found in the English language and can be a challenge to learn. Where possible we have referenced spelling and pronunciation using First Peoples’ Cultural Council First Voices resource. Just try to say them, even if you stumble.

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