Friday, April 17, 2009

Signs of Lekwungen

The Signs of Lekwungen (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en) is an interpretive walkway along Victoria's Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish (First Nations Canadian) people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years. The project was completed in 2008, and I've been meaning to tell you about it for weeks!

The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are part of the Coast Salish First Nation family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups. Lekwungen is the original language of this land.

Signs of Lekwungen consist of seven unique site markers – bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict drop spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family!

The site markers, each with a different theme, are placed at seven culturally-significant sites to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas, as follows:
* the Lower Causeway in the Inner Harbour. (Theme: Four Directions of the Eagle. Eagles are the messengers of the sun (grandfather) and the moon (grandmother) and are far-sighted and strong.)
* Songhees Point (Theme: Four Seasons of the Salmon Family. The four salmon families are represented: Sockeye, Coho, Chum and Spring)
* Laurel Point. (Theme: Four Winds;eEach wind carries a healing power and a song.
* the site of the south west bastion of the Hudson Bay Company's fort,on the north side of the Malahat building, on Wharf Street. (Theme: Walk in Two Worlds; recognizes colonization.)
* the entrance to the Royal BC Museum. (Theme: Celebrate Diversity. Three Nations on Vancouver Island: Kwakwaka'wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish.)
* near City Hall on Pandora Avenue. (Theme: Seim Speaker -- a person held in high esteem who speaks for the people.)
* the Beacon Hill "Lookout". (Carving theme: The Cairens -- rocks placed in circular patterns to signify ancient burial sites. Sea otters are the keepers of spiritual powers; "little people" are playful spirits who assist others.)

The carvings were cast in bronze by Jack Gibson, a casting specialist and well-respected sculptor among the First Nations. Each bronze casting is a disk, 106.7 centimetres (42 inches) in diameter, which is anchored to a brown powder-coated aluminum pole. Site markers are approximately 2.5 metres (8 feet, 4 inches) in height and weigh close to 455 kilograms (1,000 pounds).

Each drop spindle is anchored on an angle to a grey granite base. Underneath lies a sandblasted map of the Inner Harbour, illustrating the locations of the seven markers. The base's top is inscribed with the traditional place name (where applicable), phonetically in Lekwungen as well as in English.

The Original Carvings

Clear, close-grain red cedar was used to carve the whorls. The cedar tree was, and still is, sacred to the Coast Salish. From the cedar tree, ancestors were able to make such items as clothing, blankets, houses, canoes, paddles, totem poles and paint brushes.

Butch Dick is the master carver for the Signs of Lekwungen. Trained in fine art and graphic design, Butch has taught First Nations Art and Culture in School District 61 for more than 20 years and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, teaching an Indigenous Learning course.

His sons, artists Clarence and Bradley Dick, assisted him with two of the spindle carvings. Project partners included the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations; the City of Victoria; the Government of Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage, Cultural Capitals of Canada Program; the Province of British Columbia; the Provincial Capital Commission; the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority; and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

You can download a copy of the City of Victoria brochure, with photos, here.


Sarah said...

Thanks for posting about this! A few spinners that I know are planning a 'drop spindle walking tour' for sometime this summer... haven't picked a date yet, but I'll be sure to let you know.

Esther V. said...

Absolutely amazing blog, Marilyn.
Will make a point of going to see each of the mentioned sites. thanks.