“In the Presence of Ancestors” brings lasting Indigenous presence to Port Moody

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      When In the Presence of Ancestors is complete, five specially-carved house posts will be ceremoniously raised along Rocky Point Park in what we now call Port Moody—a sign of pride for Indigeneity, a small but important step in reconciliation, and a call to action for us all to adopt earth-honouring Indigenous values.

      “The core of all of this is our shared and sacred responsibility to these Coast Salish lands and waters—and that’s not just Port Moody,” says Coast Salish artist Tasha Faye Evans, who founded the project, via phone. “That’s all of the territories all around. And that’s because at the core of Coast Salish art and design is the ancestors, and the teachings of the ancestors. You’re never alone; your ancestors are always watching over you.” 

      Most people in Vancouver will be familiar with totem poles thanks to the ones that stand in Stanley Park—but settler residents are perhaps less versed in house posts. However, these carved structures are an important part of traditional Indigenous culture and familial life.

      “In Coast Salish culture our artwork’s functional, so the house post is the big post that would hold up the main roof of the longhouse,” Evans explains. “On the house post would be the story of the family, or an event of the family, or symbols, so that when guests would enter the longhouse, they would know the values of the family there or the story of family there; historical events of the family there. And it becomes a metaphor for the values of the whole community.”

      House post carvings are currently underway, with hopes to raise them in 2024. In the Presence of Ancestors actually dates back to 2017, though, when Evans was working on a different, albeit aligned, initiative. The Welcome Post Project involved education sessions for children and adults; community engagement opportunities and ceremonies; and a house post carved by Squamish artist James Harry that was raised at Noons Creek Hatchery in 2018.

      A grandmother and granddaughter discuss an existing house post.
      Photo by Rheanna Toy.

      “I just wanted to make sure that we reframed how the current residents of Port Moody look at this beautiful city that we live in, and look at the waters, and begin to acknowledge the legacy of caregivers that we join as residents here,” says Evans, who recently won an inaugural Edge Prize for her work on In the Presence of Ancestors. “A legacy of caregivers that have been here since time immemorial.”

      Each of the house posts is being carved by a different artist in residence at Noons Creek Hatchery, supported by local Knowledge Keepers to help bring their nation’s traditions and teachings and beliefs to the community. Chrystal Sparrow from Musqueam Nation, Xwalacktun from Squamish Nation, Brandon Gabriel from Kwiwkwetlem Nation, q̓ic̓əy̓ from Katzie Nation, and Zachary George from Tsleil Waututh are all participating in the project, which is presented in collaboration with the Port Moody Ecological Society. After being raised in a public ceremony at Rocky Point Park, each post will be moved to a permanent home nearby—giving Coast Salish values and teachings some crucial (and long overdue) representation in the area.

      “At the core of In the Presence of Ancestors it’s really trying to remind us all that we join as caregivers of these lands,” Evans says. “And the prayers and the thoughts of the future and the intentions that we have taking care of these lands need to be in relation to our ancestors.”

      Drummers and artists at a 2023 ceremony for In the Presence of Ancestors.
      Photo by Rheanna Toy.

      Port Moody has a long history of importance for the Coast Salish people. As the traditional Tsleil Waututh village of Saymahmit, it acted as a meeting place for many different nations thanks to its vibrant clam bed, its access to native plants used for medicine, and its prime location in the valley feeding out to sea. 

      “People up the valley would come through this area to go into what Coast Salish people call the First Narrows—go out into the Salish Sea,” says Evans. “Because our tides here are gentler than going out the Fraser.”

      The exact timeline for the finished posts is still in flux, as Evans wants to make sure that they are raised with as much respect for the land and the nations as possible. But when it is finally complete, In the Presence of Ancestors will be an important beacon for Saymahmit.