Through the lens of emerging artists Cole Speck and Crystal Behn: paddles for the reconciliation journey 

Photo: Cole Speck, Reconciliation Paddle 2021

The British Columbia Reconciliation Award draws inspiration from the work of the Honourable Steven Point [Xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl], 28th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, and a founder of the award program. His hand-carved red cedar canoe, Shxwtitostel, currently on display at the BC Legislature buildings, was created as a symbol of reconciliation, with the understanding that “we are all in the same canoe” and must “paddle together” to move forward. 

In keeping with His Honour’s inspiration and to commemorate the inaugural offering of the award in 2020, BC Achievement commissioned the recipient of the 2020 Crabtree McLennan Emerging Artist for the Fulmer Award in First Nations Art, Cole Speck, to create a paddle design representative of his understanding of the reconciliation journey. Cole, a Kwakwaka’wakw artist, designed a paddle emblematic of his vision: 

“The paddle design represents the sea monster, one of the earliest stories of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The sea monster has been carrying people through pre-reconciliation as it travels through the ocean. Now it is climbing out of the waves helping to bridge the gap toward reconciliation. No one has seen the sea monster for centuries but now that we are working towards reconciliation, there is hope that we will see the sea monster once again.” 

For each subsequent year of the BC Reconciliation Award program, BC Achievement is honoured to commission the Crabtree McLennan Emerging Artist for the Fulmer Award in First Nations Art to create a paddle design showcasing their understanding of the reconciliation journey.  

Photo: Crystal Behn, Reconciliation Paddle 2022

Crystal Behn, the 2021 recipient of the Crabtree McLennan Emerging Artist designation created a reconciliation paddle using yellow cedar, acrylic, beads, moosehide, fish scales, and caribou hair.  As a Dene and Carrier artist, all of these materials are active components of her practice and the following exposé shares and defines her intimate experience: 

When I worked on this paddle, I experienced many different emotions. What started out as excitement and happiness to be given the opportunity to create and contribute to reconciliation, turned into negative emotions for me.  Reconciliation; 1. the restoration of friendly relations. 2. the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.   

What does reconciliation mean to me? It is a made up hope, an attempt at what colonizers would like to say that is being accomplished. This paddle represents everything reconciliation should be, the freedom to express the culture and tradition that many First Nations were denied. The responsibility of reconciliation is passed onto the children of the future if the lies embedded in Canadian history are not authenticated or brought to light. Why should an entire nation have to keep fighting for equality, the land and their treaty rights while having to face racism head on?  

The traditional hand smoked moosehide has a story. The moose was hunted, its meat fed many families. Tradition and knowledge were passed on from the hunt right to the art that was created from endless hours of preparing the hide. The beaded flower colours represent every nation. The stitching that runs along the edge represents the mothers and grandmothers that stitched together their children’s moccasins, many of those children did not return home from residential school. The red flower at the tip represents all the murdered and missing Indigenous women, all our stolen sisters, the life givers. Women are the strength in our families and communities, why are they being discarded at such an alarming rate? This paddle is bound together in the middle, my hope is that one day all nations will meet in the middle with understanding and compassion for one another. That all Indigenous nations will be accepted and shown mutual respect.” 

Soon, the two paddles will be installed in honour of the achievements of the 2021 and 2022 BC Reconciliation recipients at Government House in Victoria. Recipients will be presented with a limited-edition print at a ceremony planned for January 2023. 

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