Among countless piles of yellow cedar shavings, there lies a community tradition like no other; The Spirits Within Carving Project.
On Thursday (May 16), between 1 and 3 P.M., the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) will be holding a blessing ceremony to honour and recognize the hard work of four master carvers.
Josh Anderson is the co-ordinator of the SLCC, and he spoke very highly about the many benefits of the project and some of its highlights.
“We have four new welcome figures that are currently being installed, and one of the highlights is definitely having the master carvers being on site throughout 2013 so far, and actually working on these pieces,” Anderson said.
The four master carvers, Ray Natraoro, Xwalacktun, Aaron Nelson-Moody and Jonathan Joe and their apprentices have been on site at the SLCC since before Christmas 2012, working on four yellow cedar carvings.
Anderson has seen the value of their physical presence manifest itself in many different ways.
“They started just before Christmas, so it’s great having them here, because they talk to a lot of guests that come through our doors and they give them a lot of insight and details.
“It’s just really informative for the guests to understand what kind of carving tools they are using, and because the carvers become friends to us,” Anderson noted.
Along with the projects of the four master carvers that all celebrate culture and community, there is another added layer of history to the 2013 Carving Project.
Dr. Rudy Reimer, who is an indigenous archaeologist working at Simon Fraser University, was part of a team that discovered a nearly 1,600 year-old rock bowl in the Squamish River.
The bowl will be presented at the blessing ceremony, and will eventually become part of a new exhibit at the SLCC. Reimer is very excited about the uniqueness of the artefact.
“The main thing about this find, as opposed to other bowl findings across the Pacific Northwest, is that the people who found it were able to remember the location in which it was found, and that’s really important for any archaeological interpretation”, Reimer said.
Carved out of an igneous volcanic rock material, the 15-pound bowl showed some traces of nearby charcoal that allowed Reimer and his team to uncover some very important scientific information.
“In this case, it’s even more significant because there was a fire-pit that we could obtain radio carbon dates from by sampling the charcoal. We could sample the organic material from the fire pit to directly date the bowl within the archaeological record, so that’s how we were able to arrive at the 1,600 year mark,” Reimer noted.
While investigating the specific use of the bowl, Reimer notes that it was likely used as part of ancient spring ceremony that would have welcomed salmon back to the Squamish River.
“My current interpretation is that it was an item that would have been used in ceremonies, probably associated with welcoming the salmon back to the river (also known as the First Salmon Ceremony). Bowls such as this would have been used in those events, both today and in the distant past,” Reimer added.
Even though the bowl is not a wooden item, Reimer sees an evident link between the bowl and the carving project.
“One of the things that we can observe about the archaeological record in many sites, across the region, is that we do find other items like these bowls. Sometimes, they are made out of bone and preserved wood, if they are wet sites, which are saturated with water. When preserved, we can look at the stylistic elements of those pieces and we can look at the very ancient history of carving traditions, be it in bone or wood or stone, and many of the elements that we see in this bowl directly relate to those carving traditions that persist right into modern day,” Reimer said.
Anderson and the staff at the SLCC are excited about the addition of the bowl to the carving project and the blessing ceremony.
“It will be a great addition because just the art form of the bowl itself shows the artistic side of the people, and the art can usually tell us what family the bowl came from,” Anderson said.