A beloved and prolific artist whose public works are familiar to many in the South Okanagan and beyond has died.
According to a news release from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state, Virgil "Smoker" Marchand passed away on Friday, Jan. 13.
Marchand was a Colville Tribes councilmember, and had many close ties above the border, including with the Osoyoos and Penticton Indian Bands and the Okanagan Nation Alliance as a whole.
He is the artist behind multiple large, iconic public metal sculptures in the Okanagan, including Nk'Mip in Osoyoos, Oliver, Okanagan Falls, the Okanagan Nation Alliance hatchery on Penticton Indian Band land, Westbank First Nation and Big White, depicting native animals and Indigenous stories, chiefs and tribal members.
The hatchery statue, called Bringing Our Children Home, was commissioned for a special purpose, to recognize the local attendees of residential schools.
"The Colville Business Council is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our colleague, Smoker Marchand. Smoker was a strong voice for his people and he brought a unique perspective to tribal government. We will all miss him," said Colville Tribes chairman Jarred-Michael Erickson in a news release.
"There will be time in the future to discuss Smoker's life and accomplishments. For now, we want to respect the privacy of Smoker's family and loved ones in this period of grief and ask others to do the same."
In 2020, Marchand gave an interview to Okanogan Country for a short documentary, discussing his journey to becoming an artist, and his art's connection to Indigenous culture: