A small part of the Penticton Regional Hospital was returned to the Penticton Indian Band this morning — a corner outside the hospital’s front entrance set aside for a piece of reconciliatory aboriginal artwork.
The sculpture, which represents a smudge bowl ceremonial kit, was created by Penticton Indian Band artist Clint George and funded through the generosity of an anonymous donor.
It was unveiled before a small but diverse group representing PRH staff and administration, members of the Okanagan Nation and others.
“The art and what it symbolizes will help our aboriginal patients know they’re welcome in Interior Health facilities and that their cultural and traditions will be respected and also honoured,” said Spring Hawes, a member of the Interior Health Authority’s Board of Directors.
“It represents the partnership between Interior Health, the Penticton Indian Band and the Syilx Nation. It supports the vision of developing culturally safe places where everyone feels welcome.”
The property, explained Health Service Administrator Carl Meadows, once belonged to the Penticton band but was taken from them in the early years of the 20th Century.
“Reconciliation with our First Nations and Aboriginal peoples needs to be more than a gesture,” he said. “You have to ‘feel to heal and tell to get well.’
“This art unveiling is symbolic of the kindness of the Penticton Indian Band, on whose land now sits Penticton Regional Hospital.”
The six-foot by four-foot metallic sculpture includes a large abalone shell (a “smoke bowl”), an accompanying bundle of sweetgrass and a seven-foot-long feather.
“It represents our smudge, our smudging tools that we use for prayer,” explained Mr. George. “It helps me purify myself mentally and physically and emotionally. It reminds me of where we are and who we are (and) the strength of prayer in our religions.”
Mr. George, who was born in the hospital, told a small group of people gathered for the ceremony he recently returned after suffering a heart attack.
“This sculpture actually has a very special place in my heart — actually three places in my heart. I got three stents put in my heart in the mid-stride of building this.”
After taking two weeks off to recover, he got back to work and quickly finished.
“It is a sculpture I have wanted to do for many years,” said Mr. George. “This was a perfect time and place to be able to build it.”