Wolves have returned to Harbor Quay in Port Alberni.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Port Alberni waterfront on National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) to watch members of the Tseshaht First Nation perform their wolf ritual at the site of their former winter village for the first time in 100 years, as a new “wolf tower”. has been unveiled.
Prior to European contact, the Tseshaht First Nation had a winter village and ceremonial site at the foot of Argyle Street known as Tlukwatkwuu7is (or Wolf Ritual Beach). Every winter, the Tlookwaana (or wolf ritual) was practiced here.
But after the arrival of the English schooner Meg Merrillies and Edward Stamp in 1860, the Tseshaht were moved from their village under threat of cannon fire so that a sawmill could be built in its place.
It was on June 21 that the Tseshaht First Nation finally returned to Tlukwatkwuu7is to perform their wolf ritual and mark National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. A young man dressed as a wolf was led onto the stage in chains labeled with phrases like “intergenerational trauma” and “residential school” and “colonialism.”
The chains were broken and the wolf began to dance as the Tseshaht singers drummed and sang.
“Growing up in Port Alberni, I was taught to be proud that the first export sawmill operated in our community,” Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said Tuesday, June 21. “But it was only recently that I learned that the sawmill was being built on a site mistakenly taken from the Tseshaht nation.
The City of Port Alberni and the Tseshaht First Nation have partnered for Tuesday’s event and the unveiling of the Wolf Tower. The tower, which was once a clock tower, has now been decorated with artwork by Tseshaht artist Willard Gallic Jr. which depicts the wolf ritual.
“We can’t undo this story, but we can move forward differently,” Minions said,
It was a full day of celebrations at Harbor Quay, with vendors, food, music and dancing. Tseshaht hosted leaders from several Nuu-chah-nulth nations, as well as MP Gord Johns, MP Josie Osborne, and councilors and former mayors from the town of Port Alberni. Fires were started at 8am and burned until the evening for a traditional salmon barbecue.
Tseshaht First Nation elected chief councilor Ken Watts noted that the potlatch ban was in effect until 1951, but there were Tseshaht celebrating in secret to keep their songs alive.
“There was a time in our history when we weren’t allowed to sing and we weren’t allowed to dance,” Watts said. “But there were people who stood up and they made sure these songs didn’t die. Without them, we couldn’t sing the songs we sing today. It is important to recognize all the people who came before us and laid the foundations. Because if it wasn’t for them, this celebration wouldn’t be happening.