Most any public event or meeting today starts with a land acknowledgement, recognizing the Indigenous Nations on whose territory people have gathered.
It’s a reminder that, no matter how we came to our “home” here, the word takes a different meaning for the First Peoples. It is in that spirit that that the Ferry Building Gallery has launched “Reflecting on Home,” one of the first major shows featuring the work of Indigenous artists since its reopening.
For Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) artist Xwalacktun (Rick Harry), the concept came easily. The land where the gallery sits has been lived on by his people for generations upon generations. Not far away was where they would go to place the burial boxes of those who had moved on to the spirit world.
“There were homes here,” he said, gesturing to the land around the gallery. “It all connects to why there’s that site there. To me that’s like home, whether we’re here physically or spiritually.”
The concept is maybe best demonstrated in his piece Ambleside Park/ Swaywi, a silkscreen print depicting a traditional canoe landing on the beach, just steps away. A partially constructed Lions Gate Bridge is visible in the background. It’s maybe the most recognizable structure built on the West Coast after the arrival of settlers, yet it seems out of place. The figures in the canoe don’t have faces, untethering them from any specific time or generation.
“The ones before, now, and for the future,” Xwalacktun says.
Xwalacktun’s mother is from Xwemelch’stn, a village that once stretched from what is today the Capilano 5 reserve to well beyond Ambleside Park. His father was from a line of hereditary chiefs living near the Seymour River. Xwalacktun himself grew up in a longstanding village site near what is today the District of Squamish.
“When we say ‘home’ for Squamish, Squamish is quite big,” he said. “I’ve been hunting and fishing and paddling all over this area.”
Horseshoe Bay-based Kwakwaka’wakw and Squamish artist Klatle-bhi chose three pieces to be displayed, each inspired by the oral histories and animals of the North Shore.
To him, the significance of “home” is being shown along fellow North Shore artists whom he revers.
“We have lots of great artists in this community,” he said. “To be asked to be one of the artists who are represented, it meant quite a bit. It really spoke to me in my heart.”
Klatle-bhi said he hopes the show will inspire other artists, particularly young ones, who can continue building a body of work that draws on the North Shore and its history.
“I hope it will raise people’s vibration within themselves – their spiritual vibration to keep them happy, to keep them aligned, to keep them connected to all of the things that we’re we normally take for granted,” he said.
While the concept of home for the Squamish artists is deep and broad, times have changed and newcomers now also use the same term for the very same places, Xwalacktun acknowledged. He chose which pieces to show, in part, because he hopes they send a message.
“Everybody’s home here now, because no one’s going to leave, right? So we all need to come together as one and just have an understanding of who we are as Squamish,” he said. “We’ve got to work together, pull together, maintain balance together.”
That message goes especially so when it comes to protecting the environment, Xwalacktun said.
Leigh-Anne Niehaus, community arts supervisor for the gallery, said there have been hopes to put on such a show since 2019. It was delayed by the pandemic and the long-running renovation of the Ferry Building Gallery, which is one of the older colonial buildings still standing in West Van.
“Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge the history of this land, before the Ferry Building Gallery was here, and the people that took care of it,” she said. "I hope that (visitors) learn a little bit … whether it’s about the symbolism or the hand carved wood, or the grains of cedar. Just take a moment and learn a bit about our local Nations’ culture.”
On Oct. 1, an interactive hands-on workshop Working with Heart, Storytelling, and Art, will be taking place inside the gallery, presented by renowned artist and educator Splash (Aaron Nelson Moody). Other artists featured in the show include Yul Baker, Brandon Hall, Ts:simtelot (Ocean Hyland), Ses Siyam (Ray Natraoro) and Anjeannete Dawson.
Reflecting on Home runs at the Ferry Building Gallery until Oct. 15.