Snuneymuxw artist honoured for saving traditional style
By Julie Chadwick
When Coast Salish artist and carver William Good first started out, there weren’t many other Snuneymuxw artists creating in their own traditional style.
“We did a lot of artwork but it wasn’t really our artwork, our own Indigenous artwork, it was Haida Gwaii or Kwagiulth ot Tsimshian, or it was just an amalgamation of all these art forms,” said Good. “I always wanted to revive our art form so that our children and grandchildren would have their own art form back that was pretty much extinct.”
Those revitalization efforts were recognized by the City of Nanaimo on April 5 when Good received an Honour in Culture Award at a gala awards ceremony at the Port Theatre.
It marked the first time in its 20-year history that Nanaimo’s Culture and Heritage Awards has honoured an Indigenous person.
“He recognized that the art form was at the brink of extinction and at that point he decided to devote his artistic life to revitalizing the traditional art form of this region. And I think had he not done that, there would be a gaping hole in Nanaimo’s cultural fabric,” said Good’s daughter Aunalee Boyd-Good, in a video tribute created by the city for the occasion.
It was a long and involved journey of research in museums and archives in Canada and the US—who would mail him photos and facsimiles of artifacts, consultations with elders, and ongoing practice; a lifetime of careful scrutiny and cross- comparison with the stories he had grown up with and learning how to read the art that visually represented them.
“We pretty much lost our entire art form to assimilation,” Good said, after he accepted his award from Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse. “We had the law looking at us all the time, saying we can’t carve, we can’t do our dances, we can’t sing any songs. But I’m so grateful today to see the singers that come out now, to see the dancers who come out on the floor here, to hear the speakers, to hear all the musicians. Just to see how diverse our community has become with all different cultures.”
It wasn’t always this way. Good, who is also a hereditary chief, said he had never anticipated that he would spend his life as an artist, until Elder Leslie John came to him one night in 1965 and told him it was his destiny.
“Today’s a special day because I’m handing the mantle over to you,” Good recalled him saying. “You’re the next one. You’re the next artist, you’re the next carver. You’re going to be world famous.” At first he didn’t believe him and told him to go home, but John insisted that he had had the dreams and visions that told him Good was the next great artist of the Snuneymuxw people.
It’s a tradition Good has been careful to hand down to his children. Currently, he is working with his son Joel Good on one of two totems for the city. One will go up in the Snuneymuxw village site at Departure Bay. Already a highly accomplished carver, Joel Good says he completed one totem almost entirely by hand tool alone, and then asked his father to assist with the second one.
“It’s my first time doing totems by myself so I do need his advice,” Joel said.
Daughters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Good are also carrying on the family’s artistic legacy: the sisters create a clothing line called Ay Lelum, adorned with family artwork from William and Joel. They run the business with guidance from their artist and designer mother Sandra Moorhouse-Good, who herself ran a successful clothing line called Ay Ay Mut with her husband in the 1990s.
Photos and more information about William’s artwork can be found at www.facebook.com/goodartcoastsalish.