This 14'x9' mural was completed recently. It was commissioned by the Kusoot Wellness Society. It is an imagined historical view of a summer salmon harvest at the mouth of the Kunsoot River, near Bella Bella (Waglisla). At the time I am writing this, the Kunsoot Wellness centre is nearing the end of its construction. There are several beautifully made buildings, including dormatory cabins, and a lodge/cookhouse, where this mural now resides.
The image is of the existing location, with some minor liberties taken to perspective, in order to fit everything in. One hundred years ago, as the Heiltsuk people were in their initial resistance to colonial assimilation, it is attested that there were around thirty smokehouses along the beaches, as well as some stone salmon weirs. The main, and most successful weir is shown on the right, and is easily viewed today at low tide. The row of rocks near the middle of the painting was a smaller, and, evidently less successful weir--a situation that drew sidelong smiles from some of the people who harvested salmon in the area.
This is a picture of the Kunsoot river now, taken from the beach at extremely low tide. It is possible to see part of the fish weir on the far right, with the under-construction wellness centre on the right. The river is tidal, far into an upstream estuary, so it looks very different from the painting. Also, due to low cloud cover, the distant mountains are hidden. The painting was partially composite, but I tried to remain as faithful as possible to the spirit and appearance of the location. This photo does not do justice to the beauty and serenity of the actual place.
Geese dabbling in the river.
As I was working on the painting, Larry would drop by every now and then, and we would discuss the direction of the painting, in respect to life in Kusoot at the time, describing items like clothing, and activities, and so on. He would often ask me to throw in a little detail here or there. We had a discussion about the fact that, as well as a salmon weir, it was a popular location for goose hunting, so could I put some goose in? I said, yes, but goose season is fall, and the people here are harvesting salmon, which is a summer activity. We agreed that I would put in a pair of geese with goslings, which you can see dabbling just behind the point. We talked about the shape and construction smoke houses, and that there would be wood piles, and straight sticks that were used for hanging the fish.
This detail shows someone carrying salmon into the smokehouse. The houses were traditionally made from split cedar planks, but, by the time of this depiction, milled wood was becoming available.
Everyone participated in the harvest event. This detail shows a pair of people squatting to put fish in a basket, and another couple walking with baskets of fish. According to my close friend, Ayla, prior to contact, gender roles were less rigidly defined than they are now, so the couple on the left of this detail was deliberately left ambiguous, in that regard. In the back, a child helps an adult cut fish. Notice the double-blade axe in the top left, which signifies the colonial presence in terrritory.
Detail of the smoke rising throught the trees, and a hidden presence on the left.
Ravens playing tag in the mist and smoke.