Members of local First Nations drummed and sang for North Otter Elementary School’s student body on Friday morning as four new Aboriginal masks were unveiled.
Kwantlen artist Drew Atkins had undertaken the work of carving four masks last year, which were originally intended for the Aboriginal Circle in the school’s native garden. However, school principal Diane Chretien said the finished artworks were so exquisitely made that they will instead be installed in the school’s library where they will be protected in perpetuity.
Atkins, who has been in remission from cancer for 18 months, looked stronger today than he appeared a year ago, and he was deeply moved by the honours bestowed on him by the members of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo and Matsqui nations, as well as the Langley School District Aboriginal Program staff and special guest, Statimc (Lil’wat) hereditary chief Kakila.
After a welcoming ceremony hosted by Kwantlen’s Michael Gabriel, Marilyn Gabriel and Kevin Kelly, the large masks were unveiled and Atkins briefly told the story behind each of the characters in the masks. Accompanied by his wife Phyllis and son Dayton who helped hold the masks up for the school assembly, Atkins said he chose the four characters to represent the directions of the Aboriginal Circle posts.
The bear, he said, represented awareness and humility, while the raven was about cleverness, and the wolf was about family and community. The salmon story involved how the power of shape-shifting was taken away from humans because of their egos, but the salmon returns each year up the river as “they send their children up the river to help feed man.”