At the entrance to this gallery is a contemporary sculpture by Laichwiltach artist Max Chickite entitled Raven Transforming. Transformation is an important theme in the traditions of the Northwest Coast peoples and is frequently portrayed in their art, past and present.
Exhibits in the First Nations Gallery will continue to evolve. When complete, the gallery will house displays that explore a number of themes relating to First Nations history in our area. These themes include a look at ancient and modern First Nations fishing methods, archaeological evidence covering 9000 years of settlement and the devastating epidemics of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Among coastal First Nations from Comox to Alaska, metal plaques, known today as "coppers", are highly valued as objects of wealth, status, and privilege. Each copper has a known value, a name, and a carefully preserved history.
At the Museum there are three fragments from coppers that have been deliberately "broken" by their owners. A chief who broke a copper might present the section removed to a rival, who was obligated to respond by breaking a copper of similar value. To fail to do so was to face humiliation in the eyes of the community. Since coppers were commonly valued in the thousands of dollars, such actions were not taken lightly.
The central "T" portion is considered the most important part of a copper. The owner of a "T" segment might purchase back the various fragments and reconstruct the copper. Reconstructed coppers increased in value - the scars providing further evidence of the wealth and political influence of the owner.
Skilled weavers transformed bark, roots, and grasses into a wide variety of goods: clothing, cooking kettles, and containers for every imaginable purpose. They are as beautiful as they were useful.
Northwest Coast craftsmen utilized wood to manufacture a wide variety of storage containers, serving dishes and cooking utensils.
The Treasures of Siwidi
Inside a small, darkened theatre, a dramatic light and sound presentation spotlights a series of masks while the story of The Treasures of Siwidi is related. Included in this spectacular array is the mask of Komogwey, "Chief of the Undersea World."
Masked dance dramas are an important feature of Kwakwaka'wakw potlatches. Performances re-enact ancient encounters between heroic ancestors and various supernatural beings. Such stories, and the right to represent them graphically, are the exclusive property of individual, high ranking Kwakwaka'wakw families.
The masks displayed represent one such family-owned privilege. They depict the adventures of the ancestor, Siwidi, who journeyed to the Undersea World and encountered a host of supernatural creatures.
Inside the First Nations gallery you will see a pole that was one of several originally situated at Ehattesaht Village on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In 1938, members of the Ehattesaht band towed the pole to Zeballos where Chief Frank Savey, on behalf of his people, formally presented it to Major George Nicholson, in recognition of past favours. Major Nicholson donated the pole to the Museum at Campbell River in 1960.
Wolf House Posts
Carved by Wakeman Sound artist Herbert Johnson in the 1940s or 50s, these house posts formerly stood outside Herbert Johnson's big house in Health Bay, Gilford Island. Inspired by an older set of interior house posts, these posts were originally commissioned by a collector who later changed his mind about acquiring them.
T'sonoqua Feast Dish
This feast dish belonged to Lekwiltok Chief Charles Smith. The figure represented is that of a T'sonoqua, a race of giant beings said to have inhabited the woods of coastal British Columbia. The face, now permanently fixed in position, is actually a mask which hides a second food cavity. Additional bowls would have been placed on the flattened surfaces of the knees.