A Chatroom
is Worth
a Thousand Words




Travis Neel

Travis counts himself amongst the thirteenth generation of carvers in his Kwakiutl family. Though he doesn’t use a knife (or an axe, or a chainsaw), he expertly uses digital tools of all kinds (and he’s pretty handy with a guitar, as well). He sits in front of the computer, his silver copper around his neck, systematically checking lines of code as he talks on his cell phone to Air Canada about his lost luggage. He is a true geek as well as an artist. And as co-founder of Waterstreet Technologies, he is a businessman too. Trevor is the ultimate Urban Aboriginal, as comfortable with these new technologies as his ancestors were with steel.

The focus of the first room is a totem pole, which some may recognize from the days that it stood in front of Brock Memorial Hall on the University of British Columbia campus. Carved by Ellen Neel, Travis’s grandmother, circa 1951, it went up in a pole-raising ceremony and became an important symbol of the University, its thunderbird becoming the school’s mascot! Even its football stadium was named Thunderbird Stadium, with permission of the Neel family. Despite its importance, the pole recently was taken down and brought to the conservation department, a victim of negligence and vandalism. The text is from a letter from the University, updating the Neel on the debate about "replacing" the pole.

The sides of the room are bordered by two bars of red, making it seem like a slightly-too-close look at some alternative Canadian flag, one in which the bland maple leaf is subsituted for something with a little more cultural pizzazz. A map of the Kwakiutl region blended with an image of a building replaces the area that is usually white. The room is called "Oh Canada."

Travis questions the non-Native embrace of all West Coast art and culture. Institutions that never included Native people in their policy-making bodies are now clamouring for our art. The Vancouver airport, for example, is totally kitted out in West Coast imagery.

But all is not cynical. Travis’s final room, "Music" is the positive take on the theme. There he is, surrounded by performers, fellow crew, and the artistic director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, where he has volunteered for fifteen years and which opens each year with an elder’s blessing. Behind the people is a map of the festival grounds, showing their proximity to the ocean. The blue pattern used to represent the water is actually "digital chaos", as Travis puts it. It is a photo of his PC crashing.

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Marilyn Burgess

Jason Lewis

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew

Michelle Nahanee

Travis Neel


Sheila Urbanoski

Trevor Van Weeren