On April 30, in lieu of a ceremony, City of Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog hand-delivered the 2021 Culture and Heritage Awards to this year’s winners. The city also released online video profiles of the recipients. This is the second in a four-part series on this year’s award winners. To read Part 1, click here.
Over the past year, Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun, went from displaying his work in a Nanaimo coffee shop to the Nanaimo Art Gallery and now he’s being recognized as an up-and-coming cultural leader.
The Snuneymuxw artist is recipient of this year’s City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award for Emerging Cultural Leader. White-Hill said he’s honoured to receive the award and he’s thankful for those who have supported him as he’s developed his artistic practice.
“This year has been just so amazing,” he said. “How difficult it’s been with COVID, I just feel like it’s provided an opportunity for my art to flourish in ways that I had never expected.”
As for being lauded as an Emerging Cultural Leader, White-Hill said it’s a distinction that comes with pressure to uphold and he’s grateful for it.
“This is an expectation that I’ve put upon myself in taking on this work and I think this is an expectation that so many of us who are practising traditional art forms carry: to make sure that we’re doing things in the right way and that we’re respecting the teachings and the way to do things and going to the elders,” he said.
Aside from being featured in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Rain Shadow exhibition, this past year White-Hill also painted murals inside the Beban Park pool, designed stickers for Tourism Nanaimo and created spindle whorl designs to accompany a report on anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination in B.C. health care.
White-Hill describes himself as an interdisciplinary artist whose practice is rooted in Coast Salish art. He said he started getting into art after his great-grandmother Ellen White, Kwulasulwut, died.
“I just realized how spoiled I’d been being able to go and sit with her and listen to her all the time and I realized that I have to do more to be able to learn and pass down the knowledge in the same way that she did,” White-Hill said. “And so that really propelled me to learn more and do more research and learning about Coast Salish culture and that really is what drove me towards the art.”
While he only started focusing on his visual art a few years ago, White-Hill said he’s always loved storytelling and has been a writer for “as long as I can remember.” He said visual art is just a new way for him to use his voice.
“It’s been empowering being able to express myself in this way and in a way that shares the Coast Salish world and shares that appreciation that I have for our teachings and traditions with other people,” he said.
White-Hill said there is a long history of Coast Salish art being either not represented or misrepresented and he hopes to address that through his art.
“It’s about re-contextualizing and bringing Snuneymuxw and our Coast Salish culture back to the surface and having that representation there for the kids who are growing up here, everyone who’s going to be here now and in the future,” he said. “Because it’s just such a rich history and it’s important to tell these stories and to talk about these things.”