Three large cultural art work pieces to welcome visitors when they arrive at Prince Rupert Regional Airport are on display at the Prince Rupert Regional Airport. The works which are a part of the Coast Tsimshian Cultural Exhibit were due to be presented in official ceremonies on Nov. 20 which were postponed due to COVID-19.
The hand carved 30 ft cedar dug out canoe and two 15 ft cedar totem poles, a joint venture project between Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla were moved into their permanent positions over the past few months.
“A ceremonial event to bless and name the canoe and bless the two poles will be rescheduled once gatherings are allowed again,” Lisa Girbav project manager for Lax Kw’alaams Business Development said.
Girbav told The Northern View that the original art concepts follow the tradition of when visitors would arrive by canoe with villagers greeting them along the shoreline and placing cedar mats down for them to walk along.
“This is an artists rendition of what it would be like to welcome someone to our community or territory,” Girbav said.
“A lot of the times when there is a welcome in this area you will hear ‘Welcome to the territory of the Coast Tsimshian and the nine allied tribes of Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla’ – the reference is to those nine tribes,” she said.
Both the canoe and the pair of totem poles have nine chief figures and four crests carved which represent the traditional governance system, she said.
Girbav explained that prior to first contact there were nine Tsimshian tribes in the North Coast which occupied the lower Skeena and Coastal Islands. Those nine tribes she said were divided into house groups which were then sub-divided into crests.
“Art is inherently important to our traditional governance system. The representation of the nine tribal figures, and the four crests in the poles and canoe reaffirm that relationship between art and governance,” Garry Reece mayor of Lax Kw’alaams said.
The project which has been in the works for more than three years commissioned two local artists under a request for proposals in 2017. The cedar logs arrived in Dec. 2018 and were carved in Prince Rupert by local artists Michael Epps and Henry Kelly starting in 2019. Kelly was commissioned to carve the canoe, while Epps carved the two large poles.
In addition to the canoe, Kelly also carved a five ft. pole with four crests using yellow cedar inlayed with abalone shells, bone and other natural materials. It will be installed inside the terminal at a later date.
“Carving the two Ła bała Sganm pts’aan (welcome poles) was truly an honor, bringing to life the creations from the beautiful gift smg̱an (ancient red cedar),” Epp said. “These poles were carved with much łoomsk (respect), paying homage to all of our Sm’ooygit (Chief) and each pteex (clan) of all the tribes. The traditional xsoo (canoe) welcome, is portrayed in the bottom figures.”
“I’m a student of the art and I’m just trying to keep our art and culture alive. This is our identity, it connects us to our past. And this just goes to show we are not going away,” Henry Kelly artist who carved the canoe said.
The art work is jointly owned by Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams under the Coast Tsimshian Enterprise and was sponsored by DP World and Prince Rupert Port Authority.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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