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A sign of the times at PGSS

Cree/Dakelh carver and visual artist Clayton Gauthier with his new PGSS welcome sign. School District 57 photo

The Fruits of the Forest Feast had menu items like roast beef, salmon and bannock. But the centrepiece of the meal – quite fittingly – was a large piece of cedar.

The eighth annual lunchtime banquet was held on Friday, June 7 at Prince George Secondary School. The gathering was hosted by the school’s Aboriginal Education Department and its purpose was to celebrate graduating students and bring them together with First Nations elders and community members, as well as teachers, senior administrators and board members from School District No. 57. This year, the public unveiling of a new PGSS welcome sign – crafted out of cedar wood by Cree/Dakelh carver and visual artist Clayton Gauthier, with helping hands from PGSS students and staff members – was timed to coincide with the feast.

The sign features a polar bear centred at the bottom, wrapped around the sides by feathers. On top of the polar bear and between the feathers are the words PGSS Welcomes You. The primary colour is PGSS green, with black and white outlining and highlights.

Gauthier was asked by PGSS administrators to make the sign.

“There is a high number of Indigenous youth at the school,” Gauthier said. “Art holds a lot of power and they wanted to get the kids feeling more at home, in a sense. We incorporated the polar bear because it’s the school’s logo. As we were moving forward with the design, I put in two feathers, and the two feathers represent the road of life. Also, there’s two in there because of the balance that we need in our lives.”

Gauthier said work on the sign began last October or November in a space set up inside the school. He was pleased to welcome so many people into the carving process and to teach them some of the techniques involved.

“It was by whoever wanted to come and carve,” he said. “People came in and tried it out and some of them stayed right from the beginning until the end. It was a variety of ages, from Grade 8 to Grade 12, and there were even adults. Teachers were carving too – all people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous). They were learning about the tools and different carving techniques.

“You’ve got to share (the knowledge),” Gauthier added. “That’s what I really enjoy doing. It fills my heart to see these youth. At times, there’s youth that have never carved before but now they’re getting their parents to buy them carving tools and now they’re carving at home. That’s pretty cool.”

Gauthier’s own mentor was Peter George, a Wet’suwet’en master carver. One of their signature works is a 16-foot by four-foot cedar carving that hangs in the lobby of the University Hospital of Northern B.C. Work on that piece began in 2011.

“That was the first time I really got the chance to learn from an elder,” Gauthier said. “From his teachings, that’s where I’m at now with the carving.”

The Welcome to PGSS sign will become the focal point in a reimagined front foyer at the school.

The Fruits of the Forest Feast itself attracted about 250 people. With bannock always being a favourite, local elders spent the previous day baking 500 pieces. All the food was properly blessed, and leftovers were taken to Nusdeh Yoh Elementary, Prince George’s Aboriginal Choice school.

“The event that we enjoy today is part of a legacy that has been passed onto us through the hard work and dedication of those who came before us,” PGSS Vice Principal Conrad Turner told those assembled for the Fruits of the Forest Feast. “We are proud to support this tradition at PGSS and continue the practice of celebrating our youth.”

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