A new piece of art by Wet’suwet’en artist James Madam installed at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital (BVDH) in the main foyer is being heralded as a step toward First Nation reconciliation.
During an unveiling ceremony July 15, representatives from the various Wet’suwet’en clans spoke about the importance of having their culture represented in the institutions which occupy their traditional territory.
The ceremony opened with a performance by the Ewk Kiyah Hozdli drummers and a welcome to Gidimt’en territory and prayer by Timberwolf (Mabel Forsythe).
Hagwilnegh (Ron Mitchell), Witset health director, said it was a “good day” noting he appreciated the relationship they have with Northern Health and that the installation of the carving only serves to strengthen that bond.
Kloum Kuhn (Alphonse Gagnon), representing the Laksamishyu Clan, said it builds trust.
“The trust that we have to have in here is important and when we see the art in there, the people realize a part of them is here,” he said.
Several speakers, including Gagnon, likened symbols within the community to tracks left for descendants.
“Hopefully we can step things further forward and start leaving more tracks of the Wet’suwet’en in our communities,” Gagnon said.
In addition to the Wet’suwet’en dignitaries, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach (in absentia), Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen and Smithers Councillor Casda Thomas gave remarks on behalf of their various levels of government.
Cullen also spoke about trust.
“What Kloum Kuhn said about faith or trust, confidence when we walk into this building and those that we seek care from, it matters,” he said. “And also the absence or erasure of a people from our institutions, where you would walk through here and you wouldn’t know you were in Wet’suwet’en territory, it could be a hospital anywhere, and that’s not right.”
Mitchell and former BVDH Aboriginal patient liaison Lillian Lewis had the honour of unveiling the carving, after which Madam explained he wanted to be true to what people said they would like to see represented, which was health, healing and the territory.
He is currently working on two more commissions for Northern Health, one for the Bulkley Lodge and the other for the Houston Health Centre.
The carving itself is a circular wooden plaque measuring approximately 42 inches in diameter with healing hands rising up to the sky in which the sun shines over mountains, land and river with a family of bears and a salmon full of roe representing wildlife.
Above the plaque, the hospital has installed a new sign that reads “Welcome to the Bulkley Valley District Hospital
The inception of the project took place eight years ago. The installation and unveiling was disrupted for two-and-a-half years by the COVID-19 pandemic.