In the week leading up to National Day for Truth
and Reconciliation, the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) team is reflecting on
our journey towards truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples throughout
our region and country. A part of VCH's journey is committing to creating
culturally-safe and welcoming spaces for Indigenous patients and clients. We
are pleased to share a documentary – Raising Wellness – that tells the story of the installation of
three traditional house posts at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).
Each house post was created and designed by a local carver from each of the three Nations: Brent Sparrow of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) Indian Band, Xwalacktun (Rick Harry) of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation and Zac George of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation. Raising Wellness documents the story of the three carvers and the process of carving the house posts in their traditional way. Most poignantly, it gives viewers insight into the carver's personalities, their history and heritage, and the deeply personal motivations behind sharing their craft with VCH.
(l-r) Brent Sparrow of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) Indian Band, Xwalacktun (Rick Harry) of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation and Zac George of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation
The three traditional Indigenous house posts were installed in the Diamond Family Courtyard in the Jim Pattison Pavilion at VGH in November 2020. Each of the house posts represents one of the three Nations whose unceded and traditional territories provide a home base for VGH: the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Embedding meaning and Indigenous ways though Indigenous art into the space at VGH, the house posts signify an important step on VCH's journey towards reconciliation and our deep commitment to the creation of culturally-safe and respectful care for Indigenous peoples.
House posts (or Kaken in Squamish language) are typically part of the interior structure of longhouses in Coast Salish communities, used to support crossbeams. Most often carved from red or yellow cedar, house posts feature crest figures – many of which represent supernatural beings or ancestors who encountered supernatural beings – from whom hereditary rights and privileges were obtained.
Together, the images carved into the Squamish Nation house post tell the well-known story of Xwech'taal, an ancient and powerful piece about overcoming life's great challenges and of healing. The pole depicts overcoming things that challenge us, whether it be ailments of the mental, physical, spiritual or emotional dimension. The Xwech'taal story is about a Squamish hero who slayed a serpent and earned the ability to heal others.
Xwalacktun (Rick Harry) from Squamish Nation is an accomplished artist in wood, paper, stone, glass and metals. Xwalacktun has been carving for more than 20 years and his works can be seen throughout Vancouver and the surrounding areas. Early in 2013, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and in 2012 he received the prestigious honour of the Order of British Columbia (O.B.C.) for his many contributions to various communities. He is also a recipient of the “FANS" Honour Award from the North Vancouver Arts Council which acknowledged his commitments both locally and world-wide.
The Musqueam Indian Band qeqen (house post) presents an eagle at the top symbolizing Musqueam ancestors and loved ones as guardians watching over patients while providing them comfort and protection through recovery. The female figure poses in honour with her arms slightly extended offering guidance, warmth and strength while greeting passing staff and patients as well as welcoming friends, family and visitors to Vancouver General Hospital. The face on the back with the blanket design symbolizes the staff, patients, friends and family that spend time in the hospital. The blanket covering them is for warmth, strength and protection. The base displays many types of medicines used by Musqueam ancestors.
Brent Sparrow Jr. from Musqueam Indian Band has been carving since 2005/06. He follows in the footsteps of his mother, master carver Susan A. Point, and master carver Kwakwaka'wakw artist John Livingston since 2006. He collaborated with his mother on several major public artworks including pieces for the Seattle Art Museum, City of Vancouver, City of Richmond, Seattle Children's Hospital and YVR Skytrain Station. He continues to explore his heritage and all the possibilities of the Coast Salish art form, paying tribute to his Salish legacy.
This Salish House Post titled, Qut'same, honours the legacy of late Chief Leonard George. The father of house post carver Skokaylem, Leonard had a deep passion for Indigenous health and endeavoured to bridge the gap between his people and the health care system. He tirelessly endeavoured “to understand one another so our people can feel safe and treated just the same as every human being." The house post design shows Qut'same standing in a Salish woven basket, holding a salmon and sharing it as a gift to welcome people to the territory where Vancouver General Hospital is located.
Skokaylem (Zachary George) from Tsleil-Waututh Nation is the son of Chief Leonard George and grandson of Chief Dan George. Zac studied carving with Don Joe of Chehalis and is proud to use the Coast Salish artistic style. He creates art pieces in the true Coast Salish tradition and lives a spiritual life, rich with tradition and culture. His carved house posts can be seen in North Vancouver and Vancouver.