“The hope is that this school, and all schools, are a place for everyone to feel supported and embraced. This collaborative effort is one of many efforts we must make take to honour the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.”

Opening statement on the Ceremony pamphlet – June 15.

The two front pillars in Riverside’s foyer have undergone a transformation which was celebrated with an Art Dedication Ceremony on June 15, 2021. The ceremony had many special guests, witnesses, Riverside’s administration team, the student artists, and the artist whose vision came to life on the pillars, Xwalacktun.

Pillar artist, Xwalacktun, also known as Rick Harry.

The initial idea of painting the pillars came about with a plan to re-paint the entire school, which had the original colours from when the school first opened in 1996. Blue and green were chosen to reflect school colours, and the existing painted pillars did not blend as well with the new colours. Another motivation to re-paint the pillars was to include more Indigenous art in the school, especially in the ‘welcoming area’ of the main lobby.

Xwalacktun (also known as Rick Harry) from the Coast Salish Nation was asked if he would collaborate with students in the pillar project as he had already created three pieces of work for Riverside Secondary, one of which is the salmon wood carving on the main stairs landing of the foyer.

District Indigenous Education teacher, Sean Landers and the Riverside Art department invited students with Indigenous heritage as well as the necessary artistic skills to work with Xwalacktun for the four-week process of painting the pillars. According to Landers, another component that went into choosing the students was to pick younger students who could enjoy the legacy of their work while they are attending the school.

Students who painted under the guidance of Xwalacktun.

According to Landers, Xwalacktun is a “fitting choice as his artwork is reflective of the Coast Salish traditions and symbols, and this area has been historically the area of the Kwikwetlem First Nations, who would generally fall under the umbrella of Coast Salish. The design of the pillars was intended to authentically represent the first nations of this area.” Xwalacktun wanted to use Coast Salish symbols, such as a lot of smooth arching waves and the Salmon, and specifically the Blue Heron because of its connection with the Kwikwetlem First Nations.

Xwalacktun’s articulated his vision for the pillars: “I have a human’s face on [the pillars] to represent the ancestors and the people of the school. I used red ochre, which is protection for what is here and the people who come here; the salmon is important, the rivers here are enriched with the sockeye. I have the male on one side and the female on the other to symbolize balance. We have to be balanced with the environment; the Coast Salish eyes remind us that we are being watched by the creator, the ancestors, community, family and friends, and ourselves.”

The project took four weeks to paint, which was purposeful according to Xwalacktun. “Four is sacred to us because of the four directions, the four seasons, the four elements, and our lifeline: infant, youth, adult, and elder.”

The four students who worked with Xwalacktun are grade 9’s Harry Lee and Kate Van Veen, grade 10 Morgan Kornitsky, and grade 11 Kiera Van Veen. Kornitsky was excited to work on an Indigenous art project for the first time. “I am really proud of being part of it and really happy at how they turned out; my help will be here on the pillars until they maybe decide to re-do them again someday,” said Kornitsky.

Vice-principal Mr. JJ Hyde speculated that maybe the back two pillars might someday be painted as well. “We don’ know where we want to go next. Do we want to continue with the Indigenous art? Or do we want to open it up and be welcoming to everyone and different cultures? But they would have to fit in with the existing colour schemes. The pillars in the library might be painted as well,” said Hyde. Hyde also wanted to acknowledge the previous history of the painted pillars.  “Before they were painted over, photos of them were taken and archived; the photos will be turned into two-dimensional images, framed and hung in the art wing with a plaque explaining them,” said Hyde.

Other special guests at the ceremony included: Ed Hall, Chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nations; Gayle Bedard, District 43 Principal of Aboriginal Education; Sean Landers, District Indigenous Education Teacher.