Sointula Art Shed Residency: Alert Bay

Week 1: June 1st - 7th

On Saturday, Paul and I took the ferry back to Port McNeill, then over the Alert Bay - a 70 minute trip that is free regardless of whether you're in a car or on foot. We wished we had taken our bicycles over instead of the car, but perhaps I'll get back there during my month in Sointula. 

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We drove around the town, visited the 'Namgis burial grounds, and ate sandwiches at the Shoprite grocery store. We visited the Big House, which we were lucky to find open with a big fire going. There was a wellness weekend happening and inside the Big House they were demonstrating how to butterfly and barbecue salmon next to an open fire. The building itself was incredible, and all made of cedar, with enormous support beams, carved eagles flanking both doorways, and a big fire pit in the middle of the floor. We were welcomed warmly and watched the barbecuing process for a while. Outside the Big House is the tallest totem pole in the world - 173 feet! 

Billy stoking the fire and demonstrating barbecued salmon technique.

Billy stoking the fire and demonstrating barbecued salmon technique.

Entering the 'Namgis Traditional Big House.

Entering the 'Namgis Traditional Big House.

We also spent some time in the U'mista Cultural Centre learning about the Kwakwaka'wakw culture, the residential school, St. Michael's, that was taken down last year, and viewing the Potlatch collection. Items from the collection were confiscated by the RCMP in 1922 during a time when Potlatches and traditional celebrations were outlawed. Starting in the 1990's the community started efforts to repatriate these precious objects from the museums and private collections they ended up in. It was very moving to be in the same space as these meaningful objects and to watch the video footage of the dances that animate the masks and regalia.

Orca masks.  

Orca masks.  

Forest Spirits: "The dance of the Forest Spirits can include up to 40 masked dancers. This dance tells the story of a boy who runs away from his abusive father to kill himself. In the forest, he meets a supernatural mouse who takes him to another realm where he meets the Forest SPirits. He returns to his village and hares the stories and dances of the Forest Spirits with his people."

Forest Spirits: "The dance of the Forest Spirits can include up to 40 masked dancers. This dance tells the story of a boy who runs away from his abusive father to kill himself. In the forest, he meets a supernatural mouse who takes him to another realm where he meets the Forest SPirits. He returns to his village and hares the stories and dances of the Forest Spirits with his people."