Saturday afternoon’s Sacred Journeys exhibit opening at the Museum at Campbell River doubled as an uplifting cultural gathering.
Members of the Heiltsuk First Nation were greeted warmly by their Wei Wai Kum First Nation brethren. A common bond of paddling the open ocean has joined the two bands, and it was discussed heartily, and at length.
The exhibit explores the social and ceremonial impact of the original coastal peoples’ primary mode of long distance transportation through art, as well as immersive audio and video. It is inspired by, and intertwined with Tribal Journey, an annual event which sees tribes from all across the Pacific Northwest coast travel hundreds of kilometres by canoe to fellow nations in order to built solidarity.
Kwakwaka’wakw master carver Bill Henderson of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation spoke fondly of building a massive canoe for a Tribal Journey at the request of Heiltsuk hereditary chief Frank Brown, who is he executive director of the exhibit.
“The log was 980 years old, and the bark on it had been peeled, so when we put it in the water, I stood on top of it and tagged it, and said this is going to be the top of our canoe, that’s the way it is going to float,” he said.
Once built, he had nothing but pleasant memories of the journey, following the routes his ancestors would have for thousands of years.
“I’ve been on a lot of holidays, but none can take the place of that one,” Henderson said.
“It was very touching. Every community we stopped at we had a pow wow, feasts and sing songs.”
Brown took the microphone to explain how important the exhibit is.
“The story of the ocean-going canoe on the coast is all of our story,” he said. “The canoe made our society what it is. It mobilized us, where we can harvest the abundance of the sea and the land to evolve to be the great cultures that we are.”
Brown said he believes the act of putting on the exhibit mirrors the effort it takes to build a large canoe.
“It was done in the spirit of the canoe work because it takes lot of people to make it happen. Not just one person.”
The art work of Ian Reed, KC Hall, and Chazz Mack is featured, as is the video work of Green Coast Media’s Mark Winch.
The museum’s executive director Sandra Parrish described the exhibit as powerful.
“It’s been in the works for a number of years, but we’ve always been that first stop for it, which is very important to us,” she said.
The exhibit is scheduled to go to a number of other museums across Canada and the United States.
“It is wonderful,” Parrish said of the travelling exhibit. “While we’re all familiar with tribal journeys on the coast here but to get that very positive story elsewhere will be very good.
While it will be going elsewhere, there is still lots of time to see it locally. Sacred Journeys will be shown at Museum at Campbell River until November 7.