SFU to unveil a hand-carved Musqueam welcome figure to honour local First Nations territories—Sept. 6
By Justin Wong
Simon Fraser University will host a traditional First Nations ceremony to unveil a new welcome figure at SFU’s Vancouver campus on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. The ceremony will be streamed on Facebook live and you can watch by visiting our Facebook page when the event commences.
The figure, carved by Musqueam artist Brent Sparrow, is intended to honour, and to create a stronger awareness of, the local Coast Salish territories on which SFU Vancouver is located: the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam. The welcome figure also serves to encourage the SFU community and its visitors to learn more about local First Nations culture and history.
The carving project supports the SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council’s (SFU-ARC) commitment to indigenize the University and to foster a welcoming environment for its indigenous students.
Last fall, SFU President Andrew Petter established SFU-ARC to facilitate and support broad discussions about how the University might address the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. SFU has since committed $9 million in University funding to advance reconciliation projects across the SFU community over the next three years.
“The valued relationships we enjoy with local First Nations are a vital part of SFU's mission to be Canada’s Engaged University,” says Petter. “This wonderful welcome figure celebrates those relationships while also advancing our commitment to honour the history, culture and presence of Aboriginal peoples.”
The figure will stand permanently in the Harbour Centre foyer at the Vancouver campus to welcome everyone who visits the University. The artwork is titled Si’em, an honorific used to refer to elders, chiefs or speakers in Musqueam culture and other indigenous societies in B.C. and around the world. In Musqueam culture, a Si’em will welcome guests to the territory.
“The figure is adorned with traditional regalia—a woven red cedar hat and hand-carved nobility blanket,” says Sparrow. “In Musqueam culture, these wool blankets serve many purposes and remain an important part of traditional and ceremonial life. They have traditionally been made for and by Si’em with men and women combining efforts to create them. The blanket and associated markings symbolize the wealth, power and prestige of the wearer.”
Sparrow created the welcome figure from a 225-year-old red cedar log grown in central Vancouver Island. Approximately 500 hours went into the finished figure, which weighs about 600 pounds. Standing 11 feet high and three feet wide at the campus entrance, it welcomes all who visit.
"Canadian indigenous symbolism is most often represented through forms like button blankets, clothing, masks, songs and totem pole carvings,” says Gary George, officer for community relations with SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples.
“It is our culture, history and tradition. The welcoming figure will not only welcome people from all over the world, but it will help our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students feel a ‘sense of place’ on campus."
This project was made possible by the Musqueam Nation, Musqueam carver Brent Sparrow, SFU Vancouver, the Office for Aboriginal Peoples, and many others who graciously assisted in making this venture possible.