Vancouver Foundation


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 27

Photos: Courtesy the Carving on the Edge Festival 2 0 1 7 I V a n c o u v e r F o u n d a t i o n l p a g e 2 3 For more information about the Living Archive project, visit To support important projects like this, call Calvin in Donor Services at 604.629.5357 or visit By now, the festival has grown into a major event in Tofino. Over the course of four days, carvers, artists, elders, curators and members of the public convene at the Shore Building. Part art gallery, part carving workspace and part community centre, the hall acts as meeting place for master and emerging carvers alike. Skilled carvers offer workshops on how to make simple woodblock prints, spoon carvings, and complex bentwood box construction. From the pier outside the hall, guides take out groups in traditional dugout canoes to nearby Meares Island to see the old growth forests. "We want to connect them with the land and the materials harvested for carving – the lifespan of a cedar tree," says Swan, who serves as the festival's co-ordinator. e festival was as much for the general public as for the carvers themselves. "I'm really invested in creating cultural bridges and finding new ways for communities to come together to share what they have," says Swan. "I know that each of us has something to offer, each of us has another piece to add to the puzzle." at means connecting community members to a painful past that saw Nuu-chah-nulth villages up and down the coast of Vancouver Island stripped of their most valuable cultural objects. In 1778, Captain James Cook visited Nootka Sound and Clayoquot Sound, where he was gifted a club made from a yew tree. From then to the early 20th century, thousands of carved items were traded, looted and sold out of the villages on the coast, to institutions and collectors across North America and Europe. Objects like rattles, masks and hats found themselves in the collections of institutions as far away as the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and the British Museum in London. In 1951, the federal government ended its ban on potlatches – which along with residential schools had devastating effects on the Nuu-chah-nulth people and culture. e removal of the most draconian laws allowed the space for a revival to take root. "Once the potlatch ban was lifted, people of my father's generation consulted with the elders and started to bring our dances back out of hiding," says Swan. e revival of carving prompted them to visit the museums and archives, like the Royal B.C. Museum, that had become repositories of their works. "Carving is a really healing activity," says Swan. "Many who turned to it did so because it helped us through tough times. We are able to focus, sit down with the wood and spend time with it." Now Swan is taking up the next stage of this revival: she's trying to track down and catalogue the thousands of cultural artifacts that are scattered around the world. "ere are huge bodies of items, headdresses, carvings from this area in museums all over the world," she says. "I'm only scratching the surface." Following the example of the Haida, Swan has established a working group of community members that will determine the goals for the archive. She notes that the group does not have the authority to be involved in repatriation – that only happens between museums and First Nations governments. "Together we hope to find innovative ways to gain better access to these ancestral items," she says, "and to support cultural revitalization efforts." Swan has also started a public education campaign, reaching out to band members to gather their input. She has been a staple at community gatherings, seated with her binders full of images of valuable artifacts, offering elders and schoolchildren alike an opportunity to ask questions and peruse through images of items from their past, now held in distant museums. anks in part to a $142,000 grant from Vancouver Foundation, the Nuu-chah-nulth are well prepared to build out the Living Archive into an effective cultural reclamation project. Swan says that when she visits an institution that holds one of these treasures, it's an experience akin to visiting a family member. "You're going down hallways, past desks, and then there's your loved one and you're so relieved to see them. at's how it feels – these are really intimate parts of our communities."

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

view archives of Vancouver Foundation - 2017