The art piece destined for the Squamish Valley is a symbol of reconciliation and decolonization in more ways than one.
Squamish Nation artist Cory Douglas, who grew up in Squamish attending Brackendale Elementary and then Howe Sound Secondary, was commissioned to create the Ch’ı̓ya̓ḵmesh (Cheakamus) Generating Station sign.
The piece will be installed at the Cheakamus Generating Station to acknowledge the Nation's inherent connection to the region.
The Squamish Nation and BC Hydro project is a result of the 2017 Relationship Agreement between the Indigenous government and Crown corporation.
The agreement outlines commitments to the Nation "around consultation, contracting, employment and training opportunities as well as cultural heritage and environment support that will benefit Squamish’s community members as part of moving forward together on the path of reconciliation," reads a Squamish Nation press release about the artistic sign.
The development of the Daisy Lake Dam and Cheakamus Generating Station had a big impact on the environment in the Nation's territory in the Squamish Valley.
The art piece tells that story with images of a grizzly bear, chinook salmon, mountains and trees. It also features a Squamish figure paddling a canoe within the moon.
Douglas met with Squamish Nation hereditary Chief Ian Campbell, who is also a sitting Nation councillor, to learn the history of the village that is now home to the station.
"The residents of this village nearby — they were very skilled huntsmen; they actually hunted grizzly bears," Douglas said, adding he learned that the salmon used to be massive in the river, reaching about 100 pounds.
"That dam has changed the returns each year," said Douglas, who is a fisherman himself but has never caught anything over 20 pounds. "We used to get monstrous chinooks come up the Cheakamus [River]."
Douglas, 45, who also has Haida and Tsimshian ancestry, grew up without a connection to his Indigenous heritage or culture.
"My grandmother is a residential school survivor, as is my father. The history of the residential school — as everyone knows — it was the stripping a people of their language and culture and that is exactly what they accomplished within my family," he said.
"I was so far removed from it that I didn't know anything about the language. I knew that I was Squamish Nation, but I didn't know that I was Coast Salish. I didn't know that we were an amalgamated community and what that actually meant. So, I had very little exposure to any part of my heritage or culture."
After high school, he pursued post-secondary education in architecture and engineering.
It wasn't until he was in his 30s that he reached back to learn about his heritage and took up his art.
He currently runs Modern Formline Design; he designs drums, tattoos, original paintings and hand-engraved jewelery.
(He previously redesigned the Squamish Minor Hockey League jerseys.)
"All the work that I am doing today is helping re-establish and reaffirm our position in our territory, so I speak to a decolonized approach in all aspects of the projects I am engaged with," he said.
"I am really excited for the future of our Coast Salish communities."
Douglas is also a cultural facilitator, operating workshops on his art and culture.
Fast forward to the callout for artists to make the sign for the Squamish generating station and it was a project that Douglas saw as merging his passions.
"I have been operating my own art business and wanting to bring architecture and the art itself together, but never really had too many chances to do it," he said.
He was attracted to the Squamish project too, because of its decolonizing approach.
He praises BC Hydro for the effort.
"I appreciate all the businesses who are doing business with Squamish Nation, like BC Hydro. It is wonderful to see and see them working together and to work on the land together.”
The piece will be installed in the spring.
For its part, BC Hydro says this project is one of many it is pursuing with the Nation.
“The art installation at our Cheakamus Generating Station is an important milestone in the relationship we’re building with the Squamish Nation. Its completion is a testament to the collaboration between the two groups and we look forward to working alongside the Squamish Nation on several other initiatives as we work towards reconciliation together,” reads a statement from BC Hydro media spokesperson Kevin Aquino.