My hometown of Vancouver serves as a gateway to some of the remote hearts of Canada’s First Nations communities. The city could be seen as merely a pass-through for purpose-driven travellers, artists and historians en route to the islands and forests of her ancestral peoples. Vancouver’s neighbourhoods-in-transition seem to be invisible. For urban dwellers, the contributions and struggles of many First Nations are noticeable most often in the form of polished, re-contextualized objects of art sold on Gallery Row or can be seen as breathtaking exhibits on the other side of town in the Museum of Anthropology.
Last week Peter and I went to sleep in an Old Victorian downtown — a once derelict, single room occupancy at the edge of the untouchable alleys, now gutted and re-imagined as a golden façade in the spring sunshine and retrofitted at the roof with a traditional longhouse and totem pole. From the street, a sign in the window read, “Authentic Aboriginal Art Hotel.” Operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, it’s the love labour of the Society’s CEO David Eddy, who had the idea to create a profit-making boutique hotel and gallery in the heart of one of Vancouver’s transitioning neighbourhoods — one that could support Aboriginal artists.
Part gallery, part hotel and part live-work studios, Skwatchàys Lodge is a social enterprise, applying commercial strategies to enrich people’s lives by connecting real needs with real value. Cozy in our room, we slept beneath Nancy A. Luis’ giant dream catcher — a salmon-scooping spirit bear. In the morning, on the roof, behind the longhouse façade, a smudging ceremony with an elder or a healing ritual in the in-house sweat lodge is offered — for renewal, for participation, for art.
PS: “The universe is transformation; our life is what our thoughts make it.” (Marcus Aurelius)
Esoterica: Perhaps artists have always understood the needs-value exchange of social enterprise and the deepening of experience that accompanies the making and sharing of art. At Skwatchàys, guests mingle with the artists and get to share in the magic. Artists are part of a fair-trade gallery, and revenues support social housing that would otherwise struggle to maintain sustainability. Inspired by Skwatchàys, cities in Australia and the UK are dreaming up ways to create their own art hotels. “People go nuts over it. In reviews, they talk about the great staff, the beautiful art, the unusualness, the authenticity and the social enterprise.” (David Eddy, CEO of the Vancouver Native Housing Society)
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“It’s unbelievable; it’s beyond our wildest dreams. This model can be pan-Canadian. It can actually be worldwide in any urban centre with a large indigenous population.” (David Eddy)