First Nations art honoured at Officer’s Wardroom

Aboriginal Art in the Wardroom, Aboriginal Awareness Week

Coast Salish carver John Marston's work as he poses with it.

Aboriginal Week was the perfect occasion for Base Commander, Capt(N) Craig Baines to launch an initiative to honour First Nations people, their heritage and their connection to CFB Esquimalt.

On May 23 at the Wardroom, he unveiled an Aboriginal display cabinet full of art. Among the spectators were the Chief’s of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, the Songhees Nation drummers, spiritual advisors and several First Nations artists and their guests.

The unique display, a project managed through Public Works and Government Services Canada, includes the work of Aboriginal artists from various Nations including Esquimalt, Songhees, Cowichan, and Haida.

While some pieces have been gifted to the base, the majority are on loan in what will be a rotating display showcasing work of local Aboriginal artists.

Coast Salish artist John Marston of Ladysmith brought five pieces to display including sun and moon masks, a canoe box and two bentwood boxes.

“When I heard about this display I wanted to be a part of it. I felt it was a good initiative to support,” he said.

Marston has been carving since age eight and learned from his artist parents. His sun and moon masks each took five to six weeks of full-time carving to complete.

Clarence Dick Jr, an artist from the Songhees Nation, carved a cedar panel of sea creatures he made especially for this base exhibit.

“This piece is called The Life Cycle. It shows the whale chasing after the sea lion and the sea lion chasing after the salmon. I’m happy to be a part of this exhibit,” he said.

Other pieces include two eagle masks more than 100 years old from the Haida Nation, on loan from Mary-Ann Thomas of Esquimalt Nation; a toggling harpoon used for fishing; a Salish cedar hat; clam basket; and archival photographs from the B.C. Archives and Royal B.C. Museum.

Above this museum-like exhibit hangs the hand-carved 15-foot red cedar canoe Sea Raven – a gift carved by LGov Steven Point and presented to the Royal Canadian Navy in honour of the 100th anniversary.

After seeing how great the Sea Raven canoe looked in the Wardroom, Capt(N) Baines realized a display case beneath it would be perfect to showcase Aboriginal art to members and guests of the Wardroom.

“It is a tangible way to recognize the heritage and fantastic work of the First Nations people. We chose to officially open it during Aboriginal Awareness Week and hope that it will increase our understanding of one of our most important neighbours,” said Capt(N) Baines.

Shelley Lipke, Staff writer

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