Coast Salish motifs at the heart of new SFU chancellor and president regalia

October 21, 2020

By Norah Wang

When they take the stage for this fall’s Convocation, SFU’s new chancellor and president will wear newly designed regalia that feature motifs created by Chief Janice George—Chepximiya Siyam’––and Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph—Skwetsimeltxw––both expert weavers and teachers from the Squamish Nation.

The inspiration for the motifs comes from designs used to honour leaders in Coast Salish culture. Local artist Beverli Barnes redesigned the regalia for new SFU Chancellor Tamara Vrooman and new President Joy Johnson. The gowns, which are worn during Convocation, will make their official debut Thursday morning during SFU’s installation ceremony for the new chancellor and president.

“The motifs we chose for the regalia are from the one we wove for our chief, and we are telling the stories of leaders,” says Chief George. “We thought it would be appropriate to have the president and chancellor wearing the same motifs as well.”

Chief Janice George—Chepximiya Siyam’––and Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph—Skwetsimeltxw.

Chief George, who graduated from Capilano University and the Institute of American Indian Arts, and Joseph, who is the former director of the Squamish Housing and Capital Projects and current consultant on capital projects for First Nations communities, co-founded L’Hen Awtwx (Squamish Weaving House) to share the teachings and practice of traditional Coast Salish wool weaving. Their weaving, Newxniw’chet (The Teachings), has been hanging in SFU’s Saywell Atrium since 2009. The weaving represents the peoples that once lived and the food they harvested at Burnaby Mountain.

“In our culture, they are called Siyam, who is someone held in high regard,” says Joseph.

“We wanted to represent them both as leaders but in their own way.”

Red, which is SFU’s signature colour, and the colour of the president’s regalia, is also significant to Coast Salish people because it symbolizes medicine. The chancellor’s regalia in blue, on the other hand, is contemporary.

“It is modern times and we are using our traditional motifs to show the resilience and genius of our people as well,” says Chief George.

Embroidering the motifs was no small task, requiring 351,705 stitches on the president's robe and 359,595 on the chancellor’s robe.

“I am honoured to wear this newly designed regalia, which appropriately reflects the territories where our campuses reside,” says SFU president Joy Johnson.

“Participating in the brushing ceremony and donning the beautiful new robe with my family at my side reminded me of the importance of community, and is a moment I’ll always remember.”

Virtual Fall Convocation

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