The city of Victoria in collaboration with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations has fairly recently created a series of outdoor art installations which mark culturally-significant places. As the City’s online brochure explains,
Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en) is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years.
The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are part of the Coast Salish family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups. Lekwungen is the original language of this land.
The Signs of Lekwungen consist of seven unique site markers – bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.
The original wooden sculptures can be viewed at City Hall. The 7 markers are outlined at the city webpage. You can download a PDF brochure here, which has more complete information in some ways than does the web site, and also has a handy map. However, these sources have rather inadequate illustrations, so clicking on the pictures I am using here takes you to a fine set on flickr.com by user “ngawangchodron”.
This project is a welcome addition to urban Victoria, reminding us visually and thematically of the spiritual landscape which still is woven into the modern world. It’s a nice improvement on the apparent situation in Beacon Hill Park, where elsewhere I noted the following:
Acknowledgment of more than 1,000 years of native occupation and use of Beacon Hill Park land is limited to one sentence–sandwiched between information about Roderick Finlayson and a gun emplacement–on a Finlayson Point monument. By contrast, at least thirty-six park monuments, markers and plaques focus on the white culture’s 162 year presence. Nine of those markers honour the British Royal Family.
We can add the above cairn marker to the mix now, which is progress.
This project also reminds me of the recent installation of interpretive roadside kiosks in Squamish and Lil’wat territory, discussed here and here. While the Signs of Lekwungen are not as explicit as those kiosks are, they are arresting and challenging works of art which deviate from much of the Northwest Coast touristic kitsch which dominates lower Government Street. I’d like to see this as a ladder towards more explicit signage along the Squamish-Lil’wat model. Tourists and residents alike are starved for information about the cultural history of the urban environment as well as the less developed parts of the province. It would be great to see more projects which work with First Nations to bring history out into the streets, thereby making strong yet beautiful statements about the abiding cultural landscape at the heart of the Provincial Capital.