This October, the spirit of the orca will be front and centre at the World Rowing Coastal Championships (WRCC). For the first time, the International Rowing Federation (known by their French acronym, FISA) chose Sidney instead of Europe and South America, and the local organizing committee wanted a strong local connection. That meant including the four local First Nations who are hosting the event on their traditional territory.
Marla Weston, regatta manager for the WRCC, said the connection began in June when she asked the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School whether they could rent their space for a banquet.
“I was actually out on a bike ride and wondered if there was space at the tribal school that we could hold some of our events,” said Weston. She spoke to the receptionist, Denise Sam, who she called “an amazing connection” to have between the rowing championship organizers and the local nations.
“We just started sharing and chatting about what their needs were and what we could provide here from the local community,” said Sam.
When searching for an artist to create their logo, Sam ultimately put Weston in touch with artist Archie Andrew, who was once a student at the school. Sam said Andrew helped carve the welcome totem in front of the Saanich Adult Education Centre with Bear Sam, another former student. Sam knew Andrew for years because they grew up together. “He’s kind of one of those hard-working artists that doesn’t get the recognition I feel,” said Sam.
The organizers wanted something orca-related, and it turns out Andrew had a work-in-progress that fit the bill. The work, which features an orca family on a blue background, immediately resonated with the organizers.
In an interview, Andrew said his work, “Orca Spirit,” was started “a long time ago,” and was inspired by a family of orcas he saw while fishing in Pedder Bay in Metchosin. He photographed the family and used them for reference.
“You can feel them, right, when they pass you? They’re pretty close to me. You can feel their presence. That’s what inspired me to paint that,” said Andrew.
Andrew said he had been drawing since his elementary school years, but did not take it seriously until his 20s, when he started selling his work. He ran into Chief Floyd Joseph (a hereditary chief of the Squamish band) while at the local tribal school, who told him he needed two volunteer apprentices. Andrew volunteered, and began by sanding and following Joseph’s instructions.
“So I picked up a knife too, and that’s how it started.”
Andrew said he tries hard to find his own style, but has taken inspiration from his mentor’s colouring system. Black and red colours, said Andrew, refer to the past, and other colours like blue and yellow refer to the present or future. Andrew visits his mentor still, and he watches him work on his paintings, carvings, and jewelry.
Andrew will have his work for sale at the championships, as will other local artists and artisans from local First Nations, which Weston said would expose their work to an international audience. The logo will be featured on the WRCC letterhead and limited edition posters. The logo will also be featured on buffs (circular bandanas) that identify volunteers (T-shirts were deemed not warm enough for October.)
Current tribal school students will also get their chance to shine, as Grade 4 and 5 students will welcome the rowers with dancing and singing on the evening of Oct. 11. Their inclusion is special for Sam because they are the first group of students to have been in a SENĆOŦEN immersion program since they entered the school at age 3. They drum each morning on the longhouse on the grounds, which Sam said is “the best part of my day.” Sam said she was thankful that an event of this size was open to as much local community involvement as possible. The promotional video was even narrated by Tsartlip elder STOLȻEȽ (John Elliott).
The WRCC, which expects 400 international athletes to race in Sidney’s Bazan Bay, will take place Oct. 11-14.