This spring and summer, visitors to the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria are invited to witness the rebirth of Indigenous canoe culture.
Sacred Journey explores an ancient tradition nearly lost to history, telling the story of the repression and resurgence of ocean-going canoes and their vital link to the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
As told by leaders in today’s canoe resurgence, the exhibit shares First Nations and Native American Tribes stories of their healing journey from the harms caused through the colonization of the lands and waters they’ve called home for millennia.
“The Sacred Journey travelling exhibit shares our collective story of how the ocean-going canoe brought sickness and death to our people through epidemics and disease transfer during early colonial period,” says ILI Sr. Advisor and Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief, λáλíya̓, Frank Brown.
“Now as we decolonize, the canoe serves as a vessel of youth and community empowerment that connects us to our culture, language and traditions including moving ourselves towards health and wellness.”
On exhibit at the museum through Oct. 29, Sacred Journey combines art, immersive audio, video displays and interactive experiences for a breathtaking showcase of the strength and determination of Indigenous culture.
The centrepiece, a striking canvas canoe with four prominent Heiltsuk clan crests painted by Heiltsuk artist KC Hall, is accompanied by work from two other Heiltsuk artists, Chazz Mack and Ian Reid. Mack designed house posts and paddles to accompany the canoe, while Reid’s carved eagle-to-human transformation mask is perfectly poised to greet visitors as they enter the exhibit.
“This project represents an important opportunity to honour First Nation communities by sharing our traditional ways of the canoe journey while respecting each Nation’s land and culture,” says Chief Ron Sam of the Songhees Nation. “The exhibit offers a unique opportunity for audiences to learn and engage with the rich history and ongoing practices of coastal Indigenous communities near and far. Participating in this exhibition is a significant step towards healing for Indigenous communities, and we are proud to be involved.”
Featured alongside Sacred Journey will be a photo series on Bákvḷá, a Heiltsuk word that loosely translates as “gathering and harvesting food for winter.” The photos are interpreted by Heiltsuk elder and residential school survivor Margaret Brown, one of the last fluent Heiltsuk-language speakers in the world.
The exhibit opened with a traditional ceremony earlier this month, as paddlers from local and visiting First Nations paddled across Victoria’s Inner Harbour before being received by members of the Songhees and Esquimalt nations. A private cultural exchange of words and gifts also took place at the Royal BC Museum before the exhibit was blessed and opened to the public.
Sacred Journey is open to the public, free of charge, at the Royal BC Museum through October 29. Plan your visit at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
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