Gayle Liman, Curator: In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk
Education bundles created as a legacy for "In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk" exhibition
The image of Ogopogo has been associated with Kelowna for many years with very little awareness of its origin or of its significance to the Okanagan First Nation people. N'ha-a-itk (Ogopogo), which literally means Lake Serpent Spirit, was the theme of a collaborative exhibition held at the Kelowna Art Gallery in 2005 involving the Kelowna Art Gallery and the Westbank First Nation. "In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk" gave a voice to six Okanagan Nation artists regarding their interpretations and beliefs about the lake serpent. The exhibition was a huge success and, in an effort to leave a legacy and so that the voice of the Okanagan people could continue to be heard, an educational bundle was designed to be used as a teaching tool in School District #23 and beyond.
Bundles are a part of the historical record of First Nation people from as far south as the Chilean tribes of South America, the Aymara and Quechua of Bolivia and Peru, the Zapotec and Maya of Mexico and Guatemala, and north to the aboriginal people of Turtle Island (North America). Aboriginal bundles are significant in the collections of museums, galleries and other diverse cultural venues and interpretive centres. They have been instrumental in understanding the history and culture of aboriginal people and are as diverse as the people who created them.
There are war bundles, medicine bundles, and ceremonial bundles and the materials used to create them are numerous. The bundles created to accompany the exhibition "In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk" were meant to be educational in the broad sense. While the bundles focus on the art of six Okanagan artists, the voices of the artists and their work - combined with the inserts in the bundles - reach beyond the depth and breadth of visual art. The contents are meant to be used as a teaching tool more closely related to the oral traditions of the Okanagan people.
Each educational bundle contains a teacher's guide, a DVD recording the exhibition, the opening reception at the Kelowna Art Gallery and interviews with each artist, a small creation by each artist relating to their artwork in the exhibition and their views on the lake serpent, a list of definitions, provincial curriculum connections and outcomes, individual artist statements, and a description of each article in the bundle and its purpose. The suggested activities and questions for teachers were designed to be interactive and to help explore how to use the bundles and each article created by the individual artists. For example, there is a small fabric ball that contains a mixture of medicinal plants called smudge and a matching explanation of what the plants are and how they are used. The teachings within the bundles make a starting point for discussion and can be adapted to any age, another trait of aboriginal oral traditional teachings.
In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk
A centennial celebration is cause for reflection: a time to consider our past, relate our past to our present, and ask ourselves where we wish to go in the future. As we begin to celebrate, let us consider that long before the first Europeans began to settle here, the Okanagan Nation lived and thrived in and around the area. The name Kelowna itself is a gift from our indigenous people. As we move towards the future, the voice of our first people will inform Euro-Canadian interpretations, become part of our historical record, enrich our present and provide a legacy for future generations.
Through this exhibition, the Kelowna Art Gallery acknowledges the significant gifts and cultural influences of the Okanagan people. "In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk" gives voice to several Okanagan Nation artists. Barb Marchand, Roxanne Lindley, Janine Lott, Frank Falkus, Chad Paul and Sherry Hamilton have created site-specific works with narrative statements focusing on N'ha-a-itk. These works are complemented with art from elders, students and the children of Sensisyusten First Nation School. They comprise a diverse range of media and express the visions, dreams and oral traditions of the artists involved.
In water, on land and in the heart of each indigenous person, the ubiquitous N'ha-a-itk is a metaphor for the survival of a strong and beautiful culture. The Kelowna Art Gallery is pleased to honour the Okanagan people through this special centennial exhibition.
Barb Marchand: Paxlp (Cattail)
The installation sculpture of N'ha-a-itk by Okanagan artist, Barb Marchand, was created from paxlp (cattail). Paxlp lives and thrives in and at the edge of waterways including along the shores of Okanagan Lake, which is also the home of N'ha-a-itk. The paxlp plant served many purposes for the Okanagan (Syilx) people. Traditionally, the leaves were used to weave baskets and mats and many other utilitarian objects.
As a Syilx artist, Barb learned many of the traditional techniques of working with paxlp. Eventually, she used these techniques to create expressive works in a contemporary form. Barb used a cooking process to make paper and fibre from the leaves. This method allowed her to manipulate, shape and sculpt the pulp and fibres into various forms. Barb's installation sculpture of N'ha-a-itk contained the pulp and fibre of paxlp left in their natural state and colour as well as dyed portions. The examples in the bundle box show what paxlp looks like in its natural and altered forms.
Activities and Questions Compare and contrast the way paxlp looks when in its natural and changed states. Why do you think the Okanagan used paxlp? (It's easily found; very fibrous and easily changed into thread; conducive to weaving and knotting and therefore easy to make mats and other utilitarian objects.)
Roxanne Lindley: Smudge Mixture
Roxanne Lindley's work is always tied to Mother Earth and the environment. The piece she did for the exhibition was made of garbage that had washed up on the shores of Okanagan Lake near her home. Roxanne wanted to express her concerns for the condition of the lake and the importance of keeping it environmentally safe for the plants, animals and the humans who depend on it for life. Roxanne was trained to understand plants and their uses as food, medicine and utilitarian objects like baskets, mats and clothing. She chose to mix a special blend of herbs to create smudge.
Smudge is used primarily as a cleansing and aromatic purifier. It is burned and fanned over the head and body to clear the mind, body and spirit. It is also used as an insect repellent and has a lovely and powerful scent when burned to clear the air in a stuffy room or home. This particular smudge mixture contains plants that grow naturally in the Okanagan and plants that were brought in after Europeans moved to the area (commonly referred to as the time of Contact). Since aboriginal herbalists can read a plant by the way it looks and smells, they can easily adapt species that were brought in after Contact.
1) Grandfather Sage (Artemisia tridentata) from Spotted Lake (a mineral lake of huge spiritual importance to the Syilx people)
2) Juniper from the South Okanagan, northern Alberta, and the North Okanagan
3) Cedar from the Central Okanagan, the Kootenays, and northern Alberta
4) Knickknick (a natural plant used by many indigenous people for tobacco from the Central Okanagan near Bear Creek)
5) Purple beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) a powerful medicine used in teas. The flowers are purple and attract bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinating birds and insects
6) Red beebalm (Monarda didyma) is similar to the purple variety but used for specific ailments such as blood purification
7) Russian sage, which has a very pungent smell and purple flowers, used to repel insects
8) Lavender, which has a lovely and pungent odour and purple flowers, used mainly to add a pleasant smell
9) Borneo lime, a tropical plant not indigenous to the Okanagan, which must be grown inside. It has a very strong lime smell.
Activities and Questions Ask the students to smell the smudge. Ask them to try to guess what odours they recognize. Ask them why it might be better to use something like smudge rather than moth balls. (Moth balls are made from toxic chemicals and have a smell that isn't pleasant.)
Sherry Hamilton: Smoked Brain Tanned Hide and Beads
Sherry's beaded necklace of N'ha-a-itk was created using a technique called Peyote Stitch. Her bundle sample is a piece of smoked deer hide, which - after the hair was removed - was cured by using the brains of the animal to soften the hide. The hide was then smoked, which gives it the smell. Tanning a hide this way is very labour intensive and requires great skill. Sherry uses brain tanned hides because they are much softer and suppler than commercially tanned hides and it is easier to get a beading needle through the hide.
Sherry used shells; a common type of bead used before Contact. The other bead Sherry used in this sample is made of glass and is called a White Heart. White Hearts were a common type of glass bead traded by such companies as the Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company. They get their name because they have a white layer in their centre. Beads were traded for hides, furs, and sometimes even land. Other pre-Contact beads were made of bone, stone and wood.
Activities and Questions Ask students to feel and smell the hide. Ask them to describe the smell. Review the types of beads used and ask them to distinguish between shell and the glass bead. Ask them if they can tell how easy it would be to get a needle through the soft leather.
Janine Lott: Gourd
Janine Lott is well known for her sculptural and utilitarian works made from gourds. She grows the gourds in a garden on her land on the Westbank Reserve using recycled water from a pond. The gourd seeds were gathered from various places all over the world, germinated in a greenhouse, and later transplanted outside. Janine learned that thousands of years ago her people traded with other tribes as far south as Mexico and Central and South America, and so the idea of using seeds that come from other areas was connected to the way of her people. Janine loves gourds because they are organic and have been used for centuries by people all over the world.
Janine cleans, cuts, carves, burns and paints a diverse range of gourds of different shapes and sizes. She forms them into sculptural works, masks and vessels. She believes that while it is important to understand the history and oral traditions of her people and to practise these teachings, she must also have the freedom to adapt her work into contemporary forms.
Activities and Questions Ask students to feel the gourd and to imagine cutting the gourd open. What do you think would be inside a gourd? (seeds and pulp) Ask them to guess which types of objects could be made from gourds of all sizes. (vessels to carry food, drinking vessels, containers to carry small objects, musical instruments like drums)
Chad Paul: Sliced Deer Antler
Chad Paul uses diverse materials to carve and sculpt works of art. While his large wooden wall-sculpture on the red wall in the exhibition focused on the theme of Pictographs, Chad loves to carve antler. As hunters, the Okanagan people have a deep respect for the animals they hunt and use for food. They respect every part of the animal and try to use those parts respectfully. When a male deer is used for food, the hooves, the dews and antlers are also used. Antler can be carved to make tools such as awls, needles and buttons. When polished the finish has a smooth and translucent appearance.
Activities and Questions Ask students to feel the antler. Ask them to imagine carving it. What would they create? Ask them to try to guess what tools the Okanagan might have used to carve antler. (stone, such as obsidian and chert) There was no metal used before Contact.
Frank Falkus: Animation
Frank is a graphic artist and painter as well as a film maker and animator. As an Okanagan artist who understands his roots, Frank is able, through animation, to move back and forth through the past, present, and into the future and to travel the spiritual and imaginary realms. His use of colour, movement and sound allows us to travel with him. You can see through Frank's work the way his people see. You can experience shape-shifting and N'ha-a-itk moving from water to air. Frank's work brings nature to us, helps us to imagine beyond what we see in front of us.
Activities and Questions Ask the students to distinguish between live film footage and animation. Ask them which seems more real to them. Ask them how the animation, colour and sound make them feel.
Gayle Liman: Grandfather Sage Wand
As the curator of the exhibition "In the Spirit of N'ha-a-itk," Gayle had the opportunity to learn many wonderful things from the Okanagan people. She spent time gathering indigenous plants and learning how these plants were used as medicine and food by the Okanagan people. She gathered sage from places like Spotted Lake and learned to use it as smudge and as a headache remedy. Sage is found all over the Okanagan and was used in bedding to repel insects, used as smudge and, when burned and breathed in through the nostrils, can clear the sinuses and take away a headache.
This sage is called Grandfather Sage because it was gathered from large, mature plants. The Okanagan never strip a plant, but rather take a little from each plant and leave tobacco as an offering to thank Mother Earth for providing plants for people to use.
Activities and Questions Ask the students to smell the sage. Ask them why they think it might keep insects away. (There are chemicals in the sage that insects don't like.) Ask them to describe the smell. Ask them if they have ever seen sage growing and where. (in drier areas, on the sides of the mountains where there is lots of sun and little rain)
A note on the illustrations: The bundle container was made from wood and is divided into sections. The outside of the wood box has burned images, created by Janine Lott. There are two lake serpents to honour both the male and female, and images taken from the ancient pictographs of the Interior People. At the opening of the exhibition many of the people were dressed in their regalia.