The Kwikwetlem First Nation is known to gift many house posts, formally known as totems in other communities, to neighbouring communities in showing solidarity and friendship.
But yet, one has never been erected on their own traditional territory, which stretches through Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and further northeast.
Earlier this week, on May 18, it was unveiled the Indigenous band had commissioned a house post that will be placed on their primary lands for the very first time and is set to stand tall in the Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addictions.
According to Kwikwetlem Chief Ed Hall, this move is a sign that the Nation has come home and will be shared with clients and patients seeking treatment.
“These are our ancestral grounds, and they are very sacred,” he said in a post from the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA).
“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.”
The house post is being sculpted from a 600-year-old red cedar tree — weighing a remarkable 4,000 pounds — by Brandon Gabriel, an artist representing the Kwantlen First Nation.
He says his goal is to carve symbols that depict a 'warrior,' which in its own way, reflects his own personal healing journey with substance use.
“I know it because I have lived it. I know what pain feels like,” Gabriel explained, noting the post will also act as a symbol of hope in guiding the healing process.
“When you take your pain and your trauma and use it to help others — that, to me, is what a warrior does. 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.”
So Gabriel began his work on the post in early 2021, even inviting members of the BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services to help with the initial stages as a way of showing partnership between the parties involved.
“Helping to carve the house post was truly an honour,” said Kathryn Embacher, a senior director responsible for the Red Fish Healing Centre.
“There is so much that goes into making a house post, and so much meaning it has that I had no idea of. I also benefitted from learning more about the Kwikwetlem First Nation people and the stewardship they have taken over the lands for many centuries.”
The red cedar was specifically chosen by Kwikwetlem First Nations Elders from Kwikwetlem Mountain.
The Red Fish Healing Centre is located on səmiq̓ʷəʔelə, translated as 'Place of the Great Blue Heron' and also known as the Riverview Lands in Coquitlam.
It's scheduled to open some time this year once construction is complete on the $101-million facility that will provide 105 beds.
Ground broke in 2017, but was delayed when Indigenous artifacts were discovered on the site.