Student’s work inspired by art of Kwakwaka’wakw-Coast Salish Artist Wade Baker titled
GATEWAY TO ANCIENT WISDOM
The art piece that I engaged with, “Gateway to Ancient Wisdom,” was developed by the artist Wade Stephen Baker and sponsored through a collaboration between Squamish Nation and the City of North Vancouver. This stainless steel and red cedar art sculpture was commissioned in 2008 and is located at the eastern end of the Spirit Trail where it greets visitors as they enter the traditional territory of Mosquito Creek Marina and Squamish Nation Land from the North Vancouver waterfront. It was created to celebrate the completion of the first section of the Spirit Trail.
Decolonization is the process that restores the culture, language, history and traditional ways of the Indigenous people. By revitalizing Indigenous art, Wade Stephen Baker has used this art piece as a cultural response to decolonization. His work recognizes and respects the world view and stories of the Coast Salish Nations and acknowledges their knowledge and perspectives.
As I walked through the traditional territory of Mosquito Creek Marina and Coast Salish Land along the Spirit Trail where this art piece is located, various questions came into my mind, inviting me to enter the history of this land. I asked myself about my relationship with this land and its people, as I consider myself an uninvited guest who came to Canada a year ago.
My name is Noureena, I am a twenty-five-year-old female, belong to the middle-class, and am of South Asian descent. I come from a Muslim family. My ancestors migrated to Karachi, Pakistan, from Bombay, India, during the partition in 1947.
Like many others, my family also sacrificed their possessions, relationships, and memories during the migration which was done with the intent to avoid religious discrimination and to peacefully practice their religion. The sacrifices that were made by my forefathers and were passed to me through different stories and experiences taught me to always treat people from other communities equally and respect them regardless of their racial background. This will help me as an early childhood educator to provide equal opportunities to my students and to share their ideas and experiences, so that in this way we can learn from each other respectfully.
Before coming to Canada, I heard from people back home that Canadian people might not understand my cultural and religious values and it might not be appealing for them. But after coming here, I understood that there are both good and bad people everywhere. While some people give me an awkward look with different questions in their minds, others are more welcoming and understanding of my perspective. Gray Smith (2017) states that we all have to show courage to face challenges in society.
In my inquiry, I found out about the colonization that occurred in Canada, because Indigenous people were and are racially discriminated against, marginalized, and faced forceful assimilation through prejudiced policies and legislation such as the ‘residential school system’. Unfortunately, discriminatory policies and practices are still in existence today. Many of these policies have created and continue to impose hardship on First Nations communities.
Usually, the monuments, landmarks, and public art have been used by the settlers to symbolize colonization. It is mentioned in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that museums and archives have “interpreted the past in ways that have excluded or marginalized Aboriginal peoples” (Anderson, 2019). Non-Indigenous people like me learn the perspectives of the Indigenous people through observing these art pieces.
The Gateway to Ancient Wisdom symbolizes the return to ancient Indigenous wisdom represented by two thunderbirds at each end of the gate that fly to the sun and back, bringing ancient knowledge from the Creator. The thunderbird is considered the most powerful of all the mythical creatures for the Squamish people. One other interpretation of the two thunderbirds could be that it represents a balance of leadership through the depiction of male and female chiefs.
From this particular art piece, I was able to learn not only about the Indigenous land as where it resides, but it also made me realize that in Indigenous worldviews, the concept of Land is very important, and it connects me with different human and non-human elements. This fact reinforces the concept that Land is our first teacher, because “the recognition that we are listening and responding to one another is what puts us in a pedagogical relationship together” (Patterson, 2016, p. 7).
I chose to draw a thunderbird in my artwork, which is the main element in my art piece, and it signifies power, protection, and strength. The green color in my art piece symbolizes the growth, harmony, and safety that was achieved after the historic peace through the sacrifice of the Twin sisters and the wisdom of a Coast Salish Nation’s Chief. The blue color represents the sea and the sky. I have tried to convey that this period of peace and stability has great depth and covers the entirety of the area.