The masks of Owechemis

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

Owechemis' carved cedar mask.

Here on a visit in 1983 from her home in High River, Alberta, Rose-Marie Massey accompanied her sister Claudette to the Royal British Columbia Museum to have a look at the historic masks that had belonged to their great-grandmother, Owechemis.

“Owechemis” is the name being assigned to one of the trees now planted on the new street, Wadams Way, a series of fifteen trees designed to recognize personages from our history.  Both women, Rose-Marie and Claudette, are daughters of Byron and Hazel Parman, who were longtime Sooke residents.  The English name given to Owechemis was “Kitty.”

As detailed in an earlier column, we retell the story provided us many years ago by Ida Jones, wife of Queesto, Chief of the Pacheedaht people of Port Renfrew.  She said “there was a war between Indians of different tribes … a long time ago, Kitty’s father, the chief, he wanted to stop the war, he wanted to save the people of his village so he gave his daughter away … a very young girl, maybe 13 or 14, he held her up and showed her, a peace offering … to stop the war …”

We have been told that many years later, Owechemis’ brother from the west coast of Vancouver Island, who had been searching for her, found her at last.  After several adventures, Owechemis (Kitty) had married Aaron Denton White, a Brit, who was working as a road foreman in the East Sooke/Metchosin area.  The couple raised four daughters and a son, who all married and made their homes between Victoria and Jordan River.

When Owechemis’ brother finally found her, she was widowed and living in a cottage at the western end of Grant Road.  The brother’s joy was so great at being able to renew the family connection, he wanted to share their heritage, and presented her with several carved cedar masks.

In 1924 Owechemis or “Kitty White” turned this mask collection over to the Provincial Museum, where these special treasures rest in the ethnology department. The human-like mask held by Rose-Marie has moveable eyes, while the other is a Nootka hawk forehead mask. Another Parman daughter, Audrey Goudie, has brought us up to date on this family heritage.

 

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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