August 31, 2021
Just as the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, a small group gathers to celebrate the unveiling of a kʷikʷəƛ̓əm house post in front of θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’ (Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction) at səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview. A row of kʷikʷəƛ̓əm Elders await a ceremony to bless the first post to be raised in 120 years on kʷikʷəƛ̓əm’s ancestral homeland.
Standing in a small patch of shade near θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’ is Kwantlen artist Brandon Gabriel. He was commissioned by the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm people to carve the house post. In a checkered red and blue oxford shirt, wavy black hair pulled back into a low ponytail, Gabriel looks up at the cedar post that he carved into the shape of a warrior.
"When you take your pain and your trauma and use it to help others—that, to me, is what a warrior does,” Gabriel told Provincial Health Services Authority staff in spring.
"You help people get back onto their feet, and then fight with dignity. A warrior has been through hell and is getting back up to fight, and in turn helping others fight and protect their community. It’s not about fighting others; it’s about overcoming the challenges inside of us."
BC Housing extends our gratitude to the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm people, who welcomed a 105-bed treatment facility onto a 244-acre area within their core traditional territory. People in B.C. with complex mental health and substance use issues now have a safe place to heal. θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’ will receive its first clients in October.
The post stands as a symbol of healing. It represents the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm people’s journey as they reconnect with the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə lands. It greets guests as they enter the θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’. Both the house post and θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’ are the culmination of many hours of hard work.
In the autumn of 2019, Gabriel accompanied kʷikʷəƛ̓əm Elders to a ceremonial location within the Coquitlam River Watershed. They selected a 600-year-old western red cedar that had fallen naturally in a storm. After taking the time to listen to the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm membership, particularly the Elders, Gabriel began preparing the log. He worked in a canoe carving shed on kʷikʷəƛ̓əm’s ancient village site of slakəyánc.
He was accompanied by his father, Lekeyten, who made Gabriel’s carving tools by hand. Commercial tools can’t withstand a hard carving medium like cedar. Sanding is not a traditional practice in house post carving, so Gabriel’s brother-in-law, Jonas, spent hours refining coarse areas with tiny, precise cuts.
While the carving was taking place nearby, contractors for the Provincial Health Services Authority put the finishing touches on θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’. The facility includes a number of design features meant to make people with mental health and addiction challenges, many of whom have experienced trauma, feel safe and welcome.
Electricians installed a lighting system that mimics natural daylight to support people with atypical sleeping and waking patterns. Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) artist Rosalie Dipcsu painted a vibrant mural on the wall of the Hummingbird Room, where clients can participate in smudging and other spiritual healing activities.
The facility also has wide hallways and tall ceilings to ensure clients don’t feel crowded, large windows to let in natural light, and private bedrooms for each client to ensure privacy and dignity.
At the post ceremony, Gabriel began by cleansing the bottom of the post with a cedar branch and water. The post was fully complete later that week. The warrior’s arms are raised, holding a feasting platter to collect rainwater and return it to the earth through a spout. This symbolizes the return of the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm people to their ancestral territory, now called səmiq̓ʷəʔelə.
“This move is a sign that the Nation has come home,” kʷikʷəƛ̓əm Chief Ed Hall said. “When we stand this house post up, 600 years of history will be reawakened. Riverview has always been a place of transformation, and we welcome the opportunity to walk alongside our partners to help make this a place of healing once again.”
After the ceremony, Gabriel reflected on the previous day. A large team of kʷikʷəƛ̓əm members had helped hoist the 4,000-pound post onto a truck to relocate it from slakəyánc to səmiq̓ʷəʔelə.
“Even with all of today’s modern technology and tools, it still took the power of a whole community to raise the house post,” he said. "And the significance of that need for community isn’t lost on me today.”