Aug 09, 2022

Community

A Gitxsan Masterpiece Comes Home

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A large panel carving by renowned Gitxsan artist Walter Harris has a prominent new home inside a recently completed recreation centre in northwestern B.C., thanks to a unique collaboration between the Harris family and LNG Canada.

Made from local red cedar and painted in red and black, the panel carving depicts the front of a traditional longhouse. Commissioned four decades ago by Ocelot Industries Ltd., it was installed in that company’s administration building, on an industrial site where the LNG Canada facility is currently under construction in Kitimat, on the traditional territory of the Haisla Nation.

In 2011, the industrial site in Kitimat changed ownership, and LNG Canada moved into the administration building. The Harris carving remained in the building’s reception area, where it made a strong impression on countless staff and visitors.

The carving reveals aspects of Tsimshian cosmology, according to Mr. Harris’ artist statement. “In times past, the crests painted in front belonged solely to the families that lived there, passed down through our maternal lineages,” the statement reads. “A raven surrounds a frog that is carved where the door is located. The house front is an aspect of human life which occupies the middle plane of the universe. This world is the habitat of the land-dwelling creatures.”

Mr. Harris, who passed away in 2009, left a remarkable legacy of artistic creation and achievement. A hereditary Gitxsan chief from the Fireweed Clan, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and recipient of a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, his work is featured in major public venues such as Canada’s House of Commons, the Canadian embassy in Paris, Vancouver International Airport, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, and many private collections.

Early in 2020, LNG Canada decommissioned the aging administration building and offered to return the carving to the Harris family in Kispiox, a Gitxsan community near Hazelton, B.C.

“We were honoured to have had the opportunity to host and safeguard Mr. Harris’ magnificent carving, which holds so much cultural and historical significance,” says Craig Hallden, LNG Canada’s Indigenous and Stakeholder Relations Manager. “And we were delighted when the Harris family accepted our offer to return the piece to them.”

A Gitxsan masterpiece comes home
Harris family members and LNG Canada’s James Norris at the recognition ceremony

The carving was returned in excellent condition, says one of Mr. Harris’ children, Rodney Harris, who, with his brother Richard, helped with its creation back in the early 1980s.

“We were in awe of how pristine the panel looked for being on the wall since 1982,” Rodney wrote in an April, 2022 letter to LNG Canada. “And thanks to all that were involved in the taking down and packaging of this large panel without any damage, it showed the respect you all had for Dad’s art piece, and once it showed up in Kispiox, we had a large group of people watching and a few family members helping to get it unloaded from the transport truck.”

With support from his family, Rodney made arrangements to gift the carving to the new Upper Skeena Recreation Centre in Hazelton. He also chose the spot where it was eventually placed, on an interior wall inside the facility’s hockey arena.

On July 20, local community members and the Harris family–including Mr. Harris’ wife Sadie, their children and grandchildren—welcomed LNG Canada to a recognition ceremony inside the arena, where the carving was formally introduced. It was a moving tribute, made all the better when children grabbed floor hockey sticks and played shinney under the carving’s watchful gaze.

A Gitxsan masterpiece has come home, to the benefit of all.

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