Enhancing the Hatchery

A project months in the making reached completion this week with a ceremony to celebrate the placement of 20 pieces of unique artwork created by Grade 11 and 12 Graphic Arts students at the Mark Hobson Hatchery, giving an Indigenous-inspired makeover to a vital piece of the science and experiential education programming on campus.
The carved salmon, done in a formline style influenced by West Coast First Nations artwork, were created under the guidance of Mr. John Lyall, an artist and member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. Indigenous art is part of the BC curriculum, and Shawnigan Graphic Arts teacher Mr. Philip Toews wanted to give students a concrete way to experience that – “Part of my goal is to make graphic arts tangible. It’s not real until you can hold it in your hands,” he explained – but he also needed to be careful to teach his students about the subject matter without risking cultural appropriation. His solution to that quandary was to involve local First Nations artists like Mr. Lyall in the process.
The students started with a pencil and sketchbook, drawing a salmon from a photo, then filled those forms out with shapes that are part and parcel of West Coast First Nations art, which they had studied the meanings of. Those pencil sketches became computer graphics in Adobe Illustrator. Those designs were refined – with continuous feedback from Mr. Lyall during the process – and converted into a format for carving on a CNC (computer numerical control) machine. Cowichan Woodwork then helped cut out the pieces, which the students sealed and painted for outdoor display.
The project avoided crossing the line of cultural appropriation, Mr. Toews explained, in part because of Mr. Lyall’s involvement, but also because it was purely educational, no profit is being made, and the display will be temporary; the artwork will be replaced every year, while the previous year’s pieces will be given away.
“Traditionally, for First Nations people, especially on the West Coast, when someone learns a new skill, the first thing they make is a gift for someone else,” Mr. Toews explained. “Just like salmon, a new school of salmon will spawn anew.”
The text in the acknowledgement posted with the artwork reads:
“We wish to acknowledge that we live and learn today on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Cowichan and Malahat Nations. We are deeply grateful to our Indigenous art guide, Mr. John Lyall of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation. 
“We fervently believe the Arts contribute to the healing and decolonizing journey we all share together. These formline salmon designs were inspired by the traditional art forms of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest and interpreted by students, in an effort to learn, appreciate, and celebrate these traditional designs, while under the guidance of an Indigenous Artist. We appreciate and acknowledge the impact this has had on our student learning community. This temporary student display will be recreated each year by new students, with new artwork, as the circle of salmon life turns, so too will this display.
“We wish to thank Gordon Smith and Dylan Lock from Cowichan Woodwork for their generous support in outputting the CNC carvings. We also wish to thank the Indigenous committee of Shawnigan Lake School for their support for our vision.”
We acknowledge with respect the Coast Salish Peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, learn and play. We are grateful for the opportunity to share in this beautiful region, and we aspire to healthy and respectful relationships with those who have lived on and cared for these lands for millennia.