UVic’s IdeaFest showcases the university’s indigenous art

Master woodcarver of the Songhees Nation Butch Dick led the Aboriginal artwork tour at UVic on March 5, in conjunction with Assistant Professor of Indigenous Education Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France.

Part of UVic’s IdeaFest, the walk began in the MacLaurin Building, moving to the Curriculum Library and the university quad, ending in the First Peoples House.

Two large pieces of indigenous art resided inside MacLaurin Building. One was a giant woodcarving titled “Thunderbird.” Dick oversaw the 30 UVic students who carved the Thunderbird and shared his memory of its mystical beginning during the walk. It is said that during the Thunderbird’s blessing ceremony, the spirit of an old man was seen to be living in the log asking for release. Thus, the Thunderbird was given the nickname “Elder,” out of respect for the spirit. The Thunderbird derives its name from the mythical Thunderbird of Songhees legend. It is so large that every flap of its wings is said to have sounded like thunder. On the carving’s breast is a wolf design, representing the carving’s second contributor: the Coast Salish Wolf Clan. The Coast Salish nation assisted in the Thunderbird’s design and that of many of the art pieces on campus. Collaboration is common among indigenous artists and additions are often made to art pieces.

Opposite the “Thunderbird” hung a display for “The World’s Biggest Button Blanket,” which is adorned with Inuit, Métis, Coast Salish and other tribal symbols, representing collaboration, balance, and harmony between all peoples.

In the Curriculum Library hung another giant tapestry that is meant to represent the knowledge of women and, in particular, the knowledge of grandmothers. It, much like the Button Blanket, is adorned with various articles representing youth, the elderly, collaboration, and harmony.

Outside on the university quad stood three towering totem poles. The smaller solitary one that was closer to the Elliot Lecture Hall, known as “Raven Soaring,” depicts the Coast Salish creation tradition and was donated to UVic by the Coast Salish. The twin totem poles,  “Eagle” and “Decayed Pole,” have a rather unfortunate story attached to them. In 2009, someone scaled to the pinnacle of both and stole the two eagle statues that rested there. They have yet to be recovered.

At the back of the First Peoples House, tour followers viewed a small, intricately carved yellow plaque, which sat behind carvings of Wukus, the Frog. The Frog is particularly important to the Songhees people, as when his singing starts in the spring, then the Songhees people know it’s time to begin preparation for summer. Historically, the Wukus carvings would normally have notches on their tops, so that the Songhees people could incorporate the carvings into their dwellings, much like traditional log cabin beams have notches. These two Wukus lack those notches, as they are symbolic rather than functional.

For those who are interested in learning more about Native Art, Dick has extended an invitation to visit the Songhees Wellness Centre, which is located at 1100 Admirals Rd., Victoria. Those curious to see the art walk pieces, participating is easy, as the Aboriginal Artwalk pieces mentioned in this article remain on UVic’s campus for viewing by students and the public.

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