An Indigenous storyteller finds a new home

Photo by Jeff Vinnick, courtesy of Vancouver Public Library

After competing with her fellow storytellers, T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss had more than her fingers crossed when applying for the Vancouver Public Library’s Indigenous Storyteller in Residence Program.

Having survived the interview and panel process, she was honoured to be chosen and couldn’t wait to start sharing stories and redefining what people thought of storytelling. According to Wyss, there is no “average day” at the VPL. She spends her days working on stories, and trying to make storytelling more interactive.

She is constantly fluctuating between different projects. An accomplished ethnobotanist, Wyss excels in the knowledge of Indigenous plants and the ability to maintain health. She hopes that her time at the VPL will help promote a return to nature; just like her ancestors.

A journey home

Wyss’ − whose diverse heritage includes Skwxwu7mesh, Sto:lo, Irish-Métis, Hawaiian and Swiss −
most recent project brought her closer to her ancestors. Journey to Kaho’olawe, is an art publication about the Hawaiian Island of Kaho’olawe brought to life with artist Hans Winkler.

According to the grunt gallery website, the island is a sacred site to the Hawaiians in recovery after being occupied as a practice range by the American military. Returned to the Hawaiians in the 1990s, the island is being remediated and returned to its natural state. The book also follows Kanaka Hawaiians as they traveled from Hawaii to British Columbia.

“Storytelling is this incredible medium that brings us to different levels and we can go anywhere we want with it, and do what we want,” says Wyss.

Another project near and dear to Wyss is her public-art project titled Constellation of Remediation. While working with artist Anne Riley, she is in the final stages of the long, bureaucratic prep process to return Vancouver’s abandoned gas stations to their former beauty.

The program, which starts in June and will run for a year and a half, will work towards bringing the community together while remediating the land. Though the project is semi-permanent, Wyss hopes that it will have a lasting effect – evoking change, and eventually turning some of those spaces into housing for Indigenous youth.

Wyss often partners with schools in the hope of working with children and youth. She believes that we can engage the future by being present in their young lives.

“Our goal is to engage the community of mostly Indigenous youth, but also Indigenous families and teach them how we can all work on remediation for the land, wherever we are,” says Wyss.

Wyss also runs a blog named, Indigenous Plant Diva. Each post focuses on a different Indigenous plant, and all the benefits and uses of the plant.

Wyss says that plants are the second oldest thing on the planet, and humans are the youngest and that should be a wake-up call.

She believes we have to have a better regard for the natural world and that if we can take care of our own communities, pick up garbage we see on our hikes, etc., we can help the natural world.

Her storytelling and plant walks give people a sense of pride in their communities. As a storyteller, Wyss finds this connection with the community empowering and is eager to continue her success.

“By sharing our stories, we’re sharing our love of our people,” says Wyss.

Transfer of knowledge

Wyss’s most important goal is to help facilitate a transfer of knowledge and empower urban Indigenous youth.

She found it hard to connect with the earth as a young adult and hopes that by working on her own connection now and educating others, she will help inspire the next generation.

Wyss says she’s extremely proud of Vancouver for offering such a program as the Indigenous Storyteller in Residence. She hopes more cities will offer similar programs in the future. Join Wyss at the VPL’s Colling-
wood Branch next month on June 9. She’ll be sharing stories about the mink, an Indigenous trickster.

For more information, visit