Beau Dick, celebrated B.C. indigenous carver, dead at 61

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      Beau Dick, a world famous master carver and Kwakwaka'wakw hereditary chief, has died at the age of 61.

      Dick's death, reported by CBC on March 28, came several months after the mask carver suffered a stroke, according to Bill Cranmer, interviewed by the CBC.

      Cranmer is board chair of the U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, home of the 'Namgis First Nation. The island is just off the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island, a quick ferry ride from the town of Port McNeill.

      Dick, known for incorporating modern influences into his traditional carved masks, started carving at an early age. He was born in Kingcome Inlet, on the mainland northeast of Alert Bay, lived in Vancouver and Victoria, and later moved to Cormorant Island, where he resided at the time of his death.

      In the summer of 2014, Dick was one of the leaders of a Kwakwaka'wakw delegation that undertook a cross-Canada journey. Its members carried a Haida "copper", a shieldlike piece of beaten copper, to Ottawa to be broken in front of the Parliament buildings in a traditional shaming ceremony.

      Coppers, historically, were symbols of wealth and status for aristocratic members of Pacific Northwest First Nations. They were sometimes given away at elaborate potlatch ceremonies, involving extravagant gift-giving and feasting, before the practice was outlawed in British Columbia in 1884. Authorities repealed the largely ineffective law in 1951.

      Dick had previously broken copper in front of the B.C. legislature in Victoria in 2013. At the start of the 2014 trip, he told the Straight that he saw the ceremony as a challenge for all Canadians. “It’s about consciousness and about waking up to realize that, as human beings, we have a lot of things to sort out.” 

      In an earlier interview with the Straight, Dick said the shaming ceremony had not been practised by Pacific Northwest First Nations people for decades. “It is banishment. It is an expression of extreme disappointment and anguish,” he explained in his studio at UBC, where he was resident artist at the time for the department of art history, visual art, and theory.

      “We as a First Nation group want to move forward together in unity with our fellow men to create a better world,” Dick said about his cross-country trip, during which he was accompanied by a five-year-old grandchild and a 90-year-old aunt. “I think that this is where we start this notion of reconciliation and unity.”