Burning sage, summer heat, and the vegetal scent of the plants in the traditional Indigenous tea garden of the Comox Valley Art Gallery (CVAG)’s plaza wash over the small crowd as they stand in front of Crossroads, K’ómoks artist Andy Everson’s newly installed work.
It being June 2020, the audience is smaller than usual for a CVAG event, with plenty of space between little knots of people; everyone is trying to social distance.
Standing before Everson’s striking red and black panels, K’ómoks Elder Barb Whyte and Nicole Rempel, chief of the K’ómoks First Nation,bless the harvesting of plants from the garden, which Whyte and volunteers first planted in October 2018.
“I give thanks to the Creator, Creator of our planets and our stars. I honour Mother Earth for all that she gives us: the oceans, rivers, mountains, and plains. I give thanks to the trees and the plants for supporting the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our elders, mothers, and fathers, and our children that walk upon her with respect for ourselves and respect for Mother Earth. All of my relations,” Elder Whyte says, and I lose myself in emotion.
With the state of the world, this gathering—this garden, the work that the gallery does, this blessing—to me, it all seems more needed and miraculous than ever.
Elder Whyte draws the blessing to a close and we ready ourselves to gather in the plants, with scissors and baskets in hand and instructions on the proper way to pick the plants taken to heart. I am amazed by how much the garden has gifted us; how can such a young garden produce such a harvest? It seems magical, how spindly little specks of green patted into the earth only a few years ago could now burst forth with such abundance and vivacity.
“You can drink yarrow as a tea, as a form of preventative medicine,” I overhear Elder Whyte say, and, later, “…lemon balm can be put into a tea, too.” I find myself invited into contemplation as a sense of being rooted takes hold in me. “We have used traditional medicine for years. Things like this can help us through struggles like COVID,” she continues, her voice strong but restful.
As the last of the lemon balm from the garden bed at the base of Crossroads is piled into baskets, Elder Whyte explains that the leaves will be dried on racks and used to make tea. The overstuffed baskets are carried into the gallery and the crowd begins to disperse, each person paying gratitude and respect to one another before leaving.
I leave with a sense that something intangible, yet deeply profound, has taken root in me. The couple of hours spent with Elder Barb Whyte, Chief Nicole Rempel, and other Comox Valley community members have led me to realize that the gallery’s plaza space is a cultural centre-point within Courtenay’s core.
Here, necessary acts of welcoming, gathering, and healing can occur—something so important in these times of struggle.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
This event was part of Public Place / Sacred Space, a multi-year program conceived as a way to recognize the relationship the K’ómoks people have had with this land for thousands of years—and as a step toward reconciliation. A collaboration between CVAG and participating artists, curators, the K’ómoks First Nation community and Elders, and the City of Courtenay, the program will leave a lasting legacy.
Public Place / Sacred Space is an ongoing program with many different aspects ranging from exhibitions, public art, Indigenous place-naming and cross-cultural sharing to performance, video screenings, workshops, gatherings, and residencies. Some artistic elements will endure, including the garden, Everson’s Crossroads, and two welcome poles installed in the fall of 2018, which were carved by K’ómoks artists Randy Frank and Karver Everson under the mentorship and guidance of master carver Calvin Hunt.
Public Place / Sacred Space is made possible by support from the Canada Council’s New Chapters Program, the K’omoks First Nation, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, the City of Courtenay, and BC Gaming. For details and beautiful images, see the e-publication on the CVAG website.
AT THE COMOX VALLEY ART GALLERY
After almost four months of closure due to COVID-19, CVAG re-opened with part-time hours in July.
The Gallery’s public hours will be fluid, based on changes in conditions or directives issued by health authorities. To confirm hours of operation, or news about additional programming and events, please visit the CVAG website.
THE TIME OF THINGS
The Continuum of Indigenous Customary Practice into Contemporary Art
Open until Sept. 11, 2020
Guest curated by France Trépanier. Artists: Daphne Boyer, Maureen Gruben, Susan Pavel, Skeena Reece and Maika Echachis Swan.
WALK WITH ME
Traversing the human dimensions of the overdose crisis, seeking justice, hope and transformation
Sept. 26 – Nov. 21, 2020
Arts-based community action project featuring artist-researchers, frontline workers, and people with lived and living experience.