Campus Life  

Soaring Indigenous sculpture unveiled in OC's new Health Sciences Centre

Four Food Chiefs Sculpture

A nine metre (30 foot), hand-cut metal sculpture by local Indigenous artist Clint George is now installed and proudly on display in Okanagan College's new Health Sciences Centre.

The sculpture represents the Four Food Chiefs, and depicts the Syilx Okanagan oral history (or captik??) on how food was given.

James Coble, Director of Student Services and Indigenization Task Force Chair at Okanagan College, says the sculpture demonstrates the College’s commitment to creating welcoming spaces for Indigenous students.

“The opportunity to create a large-scale art piece in the main entryway was presented to us at the beginning of the project and it feels incredible to see it is now a reality,” says Coble, adding the intent is to interweave Indigenous design into all new buildings including opportunities for art and cultural installments like the Four Food Chiefs.

“We’re excited to have such an amazing work of art so prominently displayed. One of our goals is to use expressions of Indigenous culture, like this one, as a way to initiate meaningful conversations for the benefit of all learners at Okanagan College.”

George, whose traditional name is Wapupxn, says the art will create opportunities to explore health and wellness from an Indigenous perspective.

“When I had the opportunity to build a sculpture for the College, especially in Kelowna, I chose one of the most important stories we have, which is our Four Food Chiefs,” explains George, who is a member of the Penticton Indian Band (SnPink’tn).

“I think it’s very important when any image of the Four Food Chiefs goes up in the Okanagan or anywhere, that you give it an image that people are going to ask questions about and in that case, it helps teach people about who we are and where we came from.”

The sculpture spans all three stories of the Health Sciences Centre offering unique views on each floor where student study and meeting spaces are located.

“This beautiful sculpture creates a culturally relevant space where we can offer more Indigenous-based programming such as storytelling, workshops and ceremonial activities all with the goal of increasing our education and awareness amongst the OC community,” adds Anthony Isaac, Okanagan College’s Indigenization Project Manager.

At the early ideation stage, the project and its focus on the Four Food Chiefs was guided by engagement with Westbank First Nation (WFN) and the WFN Public Arts Committee. From there, the generous support of a group of donors involved in the building helped bring it to fruition.

Health Sciences Centre

The sculpture was supported by the building architect GEC Architecture, project manager Faction Projects and the construction team Stuart Olson Construction. The companies saw the art as a way to contribute in a meaningful way to the Health Sciences Centre, in alignment with the College’s efforts to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and doing into all aspects of the project from design to completion.

“We had meaningful engagement with Westbank First Nation, which helped galvanize our design thinking at the outset,” explains Peter Osborne, a partner with GEC Architecture. 

“This engagement led to the notion of weaving, which is reflected in the exterior cladding to the mass timber frame used instead of concrete. The landscape architecture was selected in collaboration with WFN on their traditional uses of medicine. Interior glass panels will also feature Indigenous etching designs.

The College’s commitment to learning and working with Indigenous communities resonates with Faction Projects, notes CEO Tim McLennan.

“The Four Food Chiefs sculpture is something we are incredibly proud to be part of supporting as a celebration of Indigenous culture,” says McLennan.

“As we look to the future, this project is a reminder to us that there is so much we can continue to learn from Indigenous peoples. From how we build buildings to inhabiting space and retaining a connection to the natural environment.”

Rick Andison, Stuart Olson’s Director, Business Development for Southern Alberta and Interior B.C., says working on any large-scale new building creates an emotional attachment for their team.

It’s always been very import to our company to participate in the community and leave a lasting impression. Our team was moved by this art, and we are thrilled to see how the Four Food Chiefs sculpture will inspire students and the community.”

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