The lead carver behind the Salish house post unveiled Tuesday morning at the Saanich School District (SD63) office in Central Saanich hopes it brings joy to future visitors and reminds the public of the historical presence of First Nations.
“It’s supposed to create good feelings and also bring awareness,” said Chazz Elliott of Tsartlip First Nation, who completed the piece with help from his brother, sister, nephew and other family members – three generations in all.
SD63 commissioned the carving in 2018 from Elliott’s father, Charles, who came up with the design and offered assistance along the way, Chazz said.
The unveiling coincided with National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations and attracted a crowd in excess of 100. The timing of the reveal was fitting, said SD63 CEO/superintendent Dave Eberwein.
“This is an important day, not just here, but across Canada,” he said.
Charles Elliott once described his carvings as a form of communication and as silent ambassadors documenting First Nations history and culture. His son picked up on those comments in the interview.
“They say a lot without giving a speech. They are there for those people who don’t know we are here. When they see that (the art), it will spark questions.”
The carving, which would serve as a pillar in a Coast Salish home, depicts a woman wearing a traditional cedar hat with two children wrapped in a wool blanket – the design was inspired by Elliot’s mother, who is a weaver. The woman holds up her hands in a traditional greeting of welcome.
Elliott said the carving seeks to glorify the success of students coming through the school system. “The designs on here are to symbolize protection and community and welcome.”
Wood carved and painted to resemble rope bookends the figure, with the relief of an eagle looming above her head.
“The rope on the top and the bottom are symbolic of our survival story, when we tied ourselves to an Arbutus tree on the top of our mountain – Lau, Welnew, which is Mount Newton – during the Great Flood,” Elliott said.
In his opening remarks, Eberwein said First Nations used the occasion of the summer solstice to celebrate their rich culture and heritage.
“Today, as we acknowledge the traditional land of the WSANEC peoples, we also celebrate their language, their culture and their history. With the unveiling of this Salish house post, we reinforce our district’s commitment to a new and inclusive education system that builds on this recognition and its importance in our schools and in what we teach.”
He later framed those comments within the context of broader societal efforts under the heading of truth and reconciliation.
“This is not a solitary journey, but one that we share together, as a large community,” he said, noting that many steps remain on that journey. ‘The relationship that we have with the local WSANEC is one that we don’t take for granted. We work every day to honour it and to reinforce it and to listen and to learn. This (unveiling) is an important milestone for us. She will remind us every day as we walk in, of the work before us and the journey we have together.”
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