A modern harbour city like Victoria can seem far removed from the traditional First Nation uses once hosted in this territory, but through the project Signs of Lekwungen (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en), people can learn about the land, its original culture, and the spirit of its First Nations.

Signs of Lekwungen is a series of seven sculptures in culturally-significant places to the Lekwungen people.  Represented today by the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, these communities are part of the Coast Salish family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups.  Lekwungen is the original language of this land.

Artist Butch Dick with Spindle Whorl. Source: turtleisland.org

The city of Victoria in collaboration with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations created a series of outdoor art installations which mark 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 since time immemorial.

The seven unique site markers are bronze castings of original cedar carvings, with the original wooden sculptures on display at City Hall.  Conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick, the bronze markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool.

Butch Dick is a master carver trained in fine art and graphic design. He has taught First Nations Art and Culture in School District 61 for more than 20 years and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, teaching an Indigenous Learning course.

“I remember my grandma using a spindle whorl.  She didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t speak much Coast Salish, but I understood that the spindle whorl is the foundation of any family – it can weave a tapestry of information.”

Butch Dick

Visit the City of Victoria website to download a PDF brochure  which tells a more complete story of the art installation, as well as providing a handy map.  For great photos, view this 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.

Tourists and residents alike thirst for information about the cultural history of the urban environment.  It would be great to see projects which work with First Nations to bring history out into the streets, thereby making strong yet beautiful statements about the abiding cultural landscape of a city.

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This article is part of a series produced for #AllIn2019 by our partners at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. The author is Kerri Amsing a recent graduate from Royal Roads University who holds a degree in Justice Studies. Kerri’s passion to travel led her to explore the west coast of British Columbia. Falling in love with the Island, she moved from her home town in Alberta with her German Shepherd and has been grateful to spend the last two years on the territory of the Lekwungen speaking Peoples. Kerri is the newest addition to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre’s team and was a vital player in the research and development of these articles for CFC.