səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) Public Art Ceremony “k̓ʷə səlilwətaɬ syəwenəɬ ct – Our Tsleil-Waututh Ancestors” took place on October 25, 2023, at Burnaby City Hall with səlilwətaɬ members and staff, City of Burnaby elected officials and staff, and members of the public in attendance to unveil a carving in the style of a traditional Coast Salish house post created by TsuKwalton Jonas Jones, Tsleil-Waututh artist and member.
Commissioned for Burnaby City Hall, this public artwork honours the relationship established between səlilwətaɬ and the City of Burnaby. This incredibly intricate panel brings a two-sided wolf design in relief carving and metal.
Gabriel George, Tsleil-Waututh cultural leader, opened the ceremony following protocol by calling upon Kalila George-Wilson for ceremonial work. Drummers and singers from both səlilwətaɬ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) shared two songs during the work.
“These are the ways of being that we inherited from our Ancestors. The tree they used for this carving…they revealed what is in there. Awakened the life force. Cedar is such a gift for our people.” – Gabriel George
TsuKwalton Jonas Jones then spoke, sharing how he was grateful for the ceremony and for his family for the gift of their voice. The foundation of art and way of life has been running through his blood for thousands of years.
“This piece depicts our Tsleil-Waututh Ancestors: The wolf that raised our people and our grandmother who was gifted to us from Mother Earth.” – Jonas Jones
City of Burnaby Acting Mayor Daniel Tetrault shared how the carving is symbolic as it is a marker of the city and civic space, and an opportunity for dialogue for everyone who views it. He went on to say that both TWN and the City worked hard to establish this relationship, and expressed his gratitude to Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Chief and Council and Jonas.
“As Indigenous people, we were erased from our land. Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples have called these lands home since time out of mind. So it’s important and spiritual to our people to reverse this erasure. It’s about our relationship with the City of Burnaby. It’s attempts to repair this relationship.” – Gabriel George
Tsleil-Waututh Nation Councillor Charlene Aleck raised her hands to Jonas for the work he continually does and thanked the family for carrying out this work. Pointing to the art piece, she shared: “Look at the beauty of the wolf carrying our people. We never dreamed of our representation in City Hall and our relationship that is beneficial to both Burnaby City Hall, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh as well as future generations.” Addressing Jonas directly, Councillor Aleck went on to state: “It’s because of your work that these doors are opening. Thank you for using your voice for the people.”
City of Burnaby Councillor Maita Santiago reflected on how this piece is a symbol is unity and reconciliation, saying: “We acknowledge your profound connection to these lands and we celebrate Tsleil-Waututh culture, heritage and contributions to society.”
Cecilia George, mother of Jonas Jones, then shared how this is a letting go ceremony since it is a connection to spirit and Jonas’ own healing that he put into his work. She shared: “I’m proud you took time to be here today to honour my son. And to my nephew (Nish Romero) for joining Jonas. You both have beautiful strong spirits. This piece will continue its medicine as long as it stands. With every single Coast Salish piece, it’s not just an art piece, it’s a connection to our Ancestors.”