‘We’re gonna put our love into this,’ Spirit of Kwikwetlem unveiled at house post blessing ceremony

Photo by Patrick Penner

Spirit of Kwikwetlem will soon tower over the Port Moody Inlet, its surface layered in symbolism recounting the trauma and perseverance lived by the Kwikwetlem peoples.

Well over a thousand people attended the house post blessing ceremony at Rocky Point Park on National Indigenous People’s Day, June 21.

“You all live in a jewel. It’s a jewel, and it came by way of a violent struggle,” said Brandon Gabriel, one of the lead carvers of Kwikwetlem’s post, to the crowd. “Do not forget that story.”


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Two house posts were unveiled – the first of five – which will stand along the shoreline of Port Moody’s inlet, representing the Kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh}, Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) and Stó:lō peoples.

The ceremony was the culmination of a four-year project dubbed In the Presence of Ancestors, directed by Port Moody resident Tasha Faye Evans, and the Port Moody Ecological Society.

Evans said the purpose is to re-presence Indigenous peoples to their shared ancestral territory. 

She said the house posts will stand as reminders of their stewardship, and as a reminder to future generations. 

“The original caregivers of these lands have been here since time immemorial. Their prayers and their songs are in the air we breathe, this land that we stand on. Underneath this land there are layers and layers of stories of people,” Evans said. “This new system is only 100 years old.”

Photo by Patrick Penner

Though Gabriel grew up on the Kwantlen First Nation reserve, the long-time artist has family relations to the Kwikwetlem peoples. 

He said the finished house post is a “true embodiment” of a community art form practiced by Coast Salish peoples for thousands of years.

Gabriel was one of three lead artists spearheading the project at the Noons Creek Hatchery, along with five assistant artists and approximately 40 drop-in helpers.

Aside from an electric mill, the team predominantly used traditional hand tools. 

Gabriel said they were originally scheduled for four months of work, but it ended up taking a full year, and the team kept coming back over the years.

The house post is carved from a 600-year-old red cedar tree, taken from the top of Coquitlam Mountain.

Before work began on the house post, Gabriel reconnected with his Kwikwetlem familial roots. 

His team travelled with elders to the top of Coquitlam Mountain to the site of an ancient Kwikwetlem village within the old growth forest.

The elders retold “very dark” histories from the early 20th century, Gabriel said, which would shape the stories carved into the house post.

“I remember our promise that we made on the mountain that day. And our promise was: we’re gonna put our love into this,” Gabriel said. “I remember everybody promising that, and it was so important.”

Before the construction of the Coquitlam hydroelectric dam in 1914, provincial land surveyors violently removed the Kwikwetlem Nation from the village and relocated them onto tiny reserve plots.

Many families were forced to flee, resulting in a large diaspora of Kwikwetlem families across the region.

Photo by Patrick Penner

But their story is also one of resilience, Gabriel said.

When their traditional territory was being partitioned, the nation was cut off from its main food source: salmon. 

Dam construction blocked salmon from returning from their traditional spawning grounds, but the Kwikwetlem peoples carried the salmon to their spawning grounds by hand, Gabriel said.

“Most people thought that the salmon had died off, but they didn’t, they survived. It became a landlocked salmon, which we now call kokanee salmon,” he said. “We believe that our spirit as a nation is intrinsically tied into the survival of this species. We survived this violent upheaval, just like the salmon did.”

The lower portion of the house post features a giant salmon, representing the spirit of the salmon saved by the Kwikwetlem people.

When the team was in search of a suitable tree on the mountain, they came across a 120-foot old growth red cedar which had been felled by lightning several years ago.

Gabriel said the ancient tree was alive before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, and stood witness to the lives of the Kwikwetlem peoples before and after the arrival of Europeans to their lands

“This tree has withstood genocide. It has withstood coutless storms … what a powerful spirit it must have been,” he said.  “We knew we found the right log.”

Lightning bolts and human hands carved into the house post symbolize humanity’s attempt to harness electricity and control the environment. 

“It’s about our human folly, the belief that we can control the supernatural,” he said. “It’s about respecting nature, about respecting the things that are in the cosmos, that make us who we are, that we are not in control of it.’

The female face on the upper portion of the house post has an open mouth, and is based on a historical Kwikwetlem house post that once stood near the Port Mann Bridge at the mouth of the Pitt River. It was stolen by the Royal BC Museum in the early 19 century, according to Gabriel.

“She’s yelling, she’s singing out loud, saying you did not knock me down. I’m still here standing, proudly singing in our ancient tongue that you did not destroy,” Gabriel said. 

The face is crowned with a bonnet marked with the Coast Salish symbol of the ancestors eye, an ancient heraldic symbol used for countless generations. Feathers fixed in the bonnet represent the great families of the Kwikwetlem Nation.

Several witnesses were called to stage to legitimize the ceremony, including Mayor Meghan Lahti.

“I stand here in humble gratitude,” Lahti said. “And I take the responsibility to carry the words forward very seriously. Every story that was told tonight, I keep in my heart.”

Photo by Patrick Penner

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