O si:em nu siyeyu, entha pe Kwulasultun tu ni cun utl Snuneymuxw.
Hello honoured friends, my name is Kwulasultun and I come from the Snuneyumxw.
I am Eliot White-Hill, my Coast Salish name is Kwulasultun and my Nuu Chah Nulth name is Kwaayas. I am descended from the White family of Snuneymuxw, the Hamilton family of Hupacasath, and the Rice family of Penelakut, with roots branching out far in the Pacific Northwest.
In 2018 I graduated from Vancouver Island University with a Bachelor of the Arts, Liberal Studies major and Philosophy minor. I work as a Project Coordinator with Petroglyph Development Group, the economic development arm of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
I am a published author and artist, my written works are fiction in the magical realism genre and my art in traditional Coast Salish style. I see all of my work artistically as an extension of my storytelling. I work to tell the stories that have been passed down by our people from generation to generation, to preserve the knowledge that they carry and the profound significance of the way our ancestors saw the world through both written and visual narrative.
But I also want to tell new stories. To find ways to interweave the teachings that I have with my experience and understanding of the modern context. To walk in both worlds and tell stories that speak to a new generation of indigenous peoples. Stories that address the ways our traditions and spirituality have survived through colonization and the strength and beauty of our world, our territory, and the beings who exist here.
Some Birds Strut, 2020, digital.
My passion for storytelling is a gift I received from the matriarchs in my life; from my mother, Ilse Hill, who has shared her love of reading with me all throughout my life and continues to be an endless resource for suggestions, and from my late great-grandmother, Kwulasulwut, Dr. Ellen White.
My great-grandma was an incredible person. She carried such a wealth of teachings in stories, history, medicine, and our traditional way of life. When she passed away, I realized how spoiled I had been to be able to go and sit with her whenever I wanted, and how much knowledge had went with her. But I also realized how much had been left to us by her generation, how much continues to survive in the elders in our communities, and the resources we have available to us. I researched as much as I could about our way of life. I read old ethnographies and anthropological texts. I read all of the traditional stories I can get my hands on. I began to take Hul'qumi'num classes to learn the language. It all guided me towards our art.
Coast Salish art has been historically misrepresented and disrespected within the territory of the Salish peoples. It was seen as second class compared to other Northwest Coast styles. Fortunately, a select group of Coast Salish artists, such as Susan Point, Charles Elliott, Simon Charlie, the Sparrow family of Musqueam, as well as others, preserved our style and advanced it; carrying it forth and providing the ground upon which it has been able to flourish.
Coast Salish art is at its core an existential statement of our beings as a people. It is not ornament or decoration. The best quote I have seen to describe it comes from a Wilson Duff text, that "it is to make the sacred visible." It carries with it profound understanding of our relationship to our history, our territory, and all aspects of our life in this world; both natural and supernatural. Whether it is sculpture, or story, or petroglyph, or painting, it carries upon its back the essence of who we are.
In my own artistic expression I am new. I have spent two years now introducing myself to it and getting to know it. The wealth of knowledge and healing that it has brought to me has changed my life. I am always learning; it always has more to offer. I want to be able to share that with others. I want to show other people who we are. I want future generations of Coast Salish people to grow up surrounded by our art. I want to honour our territory by wrapping it in the blanket of our art and stories once more.
I feel strongly that sharing our art will form a connection between all peoples who see it, a connection that will create space where empathy and understanding can flourish across cultural divides.
Xwuxwiyem Qeq (Sand Flea Baby), 2020, digital.