Gwa'yi Community Memories

The Gwa'yi Community Memories Project is a cooperative effort undertaken by the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation and the Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Studies at SFU. Though the project does incorporate some historical photographs taken in the early 20th century, it is predominantly based on photographs taken by New York photographer Adelaide de Menil during the summers of 1967 and 1968.

Adelaide de Menil, in communication with Bill Reid, explored the Northwest Coast from Vancouver Island to Southeast Alaska in the late 1960s. What she found was a silent landscape of ancient villages and decaying poles. Based on what she encountered, the two artists decided to record the art of the cultures they feared were disapearing.

De Menil captured on film the extent and power of the old village sites. Reid expressed in words the feelings evoked by those great and ancient sculptures. Their work was published in the volume Out of the Silence (1971). Adelaide de Menil has travelled all over the world, photographing people and their artworks. With her late husband Ted Carpenter, she has gathered one of the most important private collections of Northwest Coast art in the world. In 2010, she generously gave to the Bill Reid Centre her large archive of Northwest Coast photographs.

Upon receipt of the photographs, the Centre quickly realized that the pictures of Gwa’yi stood out from the other locations de Menil visited because of the many pictures of children who seemed to follow her around the village as she photographed various scenes.

The Centre contacted the Dzawada'enuxw First Nations and proposed to post the images on the photosharing website Flickr. The community then organized two evening events where community members could engage in discussion about the images and add their comments. At the end of the project the Bill Reid Centre sent the Dzawada'enuxw a digital copy of de Menil's photos.


The objective of this project was to share the collection of de Menil photographs with the community and at the same time, learn more about the people and places she captured on her visit. The project was governed by three main objectives:

  • To encourage dialogue between youth and their elders regarding the photographic and visual history of Gwa’yi
  • To promote an appreciation and understanding of the art, culture and history of the community of Gwa’yi
  • Share with people from other parts of Canada and the world the richness, depth and levels of meaning that characterize this cultural zone

Up until the project began, the community of Gwa’yi had never encountered the photos de Menil produced on her visit.

To view more images select a Gallery from the column on the right

The Centre would like to thank the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation for the opportunity to work with them on this project. It is our hope that we can continue to share the unique art and culture of this community in the future.