The W’SANEC Carving Project started about one year ago. Its main goal is to provide a more culturally safe environment at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital for people from its four Nations.
Unfortunately, the hospital lacks of features that reflect the First Nations culture or honour the traditional territory in which the facility is built on. However, Island Health is committed to strengthen its relationship with Aboriginal People, improve their access to services and, therefore, their health.
Huu-ay-aht, as a supporting neighbour within Vancouver Island, donated four 17 foot long yellow cedar logs to the program. Tsartlip- Charles Elliot (Brentwood Bay), Tsawout- Doug LaFortune (Saanichton), Pauquachin- Mark Henry and Tseycum- James Jimmy (both from North Saanich) are the carvers in charge of crafting four totem poles with the wood.
“By having four beautiful welcome poles on hospital grounds, we hope this will welcome and encourage people from the communities to feel they can use the hospital services,” stated Jane Fox RN, Aboriginal Liaison Nurse, Saanich Peninsula Hospital.
The blessing was performed by Rob Dennis Jr., Wish Key, with the assistance of Cheryl Thomas, Cultural Program Coordinator, on February 12th. They wore traditional regalia for the occasion. The ceremony is called Eagle Down and helps to thank the Creator (Naas) for the life and spirit of the tree and to guide the artists in their journey to transform the wood.
The unveiling of the totems is expected to coincide with the Elders Gathering between July 7th and 8th this year or happen by early August.
More about the cedar
Cedar is considered the tree of life, a symbol of strength and revitalization, but yellow cedar has healing powers too. Hilary Stewart explains in her book “Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians” (1984, p. 25) that the yellow-gold inner bark is exceptionally strong, like satin to the touch, more durable than red cedar’s and, therefore, the most suitable for carving.
Alice Huang wrote an article about Cedar for Indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca that includes the following beliefs:
- Someone who cuts a tree down without permission would be cursed by other cedar trees.
- A pregnant woman should not braid baskets as the umbilical cord would twist around the baby’s neck.
- Because cedar is a long-lived tree, some Coast Salish groups guaranteed longevity by placing the babies in the stump of a large cedar.
Just to refresh or enhance your Nuu-cha-nulth, try this expression: ʔuxaapw̕it̕asaḥ ḥum̕iis (Oogh-sop wit us saḥ ḥuu-mees), which means I am going to cut down cedar.