"We are here to celebrate a very special, historical occasion," began James Atebe, General Manager of Tzeachten First Nation.
A crowd of more than fifty people gathered in the Vedder Crossing plaza on Tuesday, September 1 for the unveiling of First Nations art.
The 67,000 sq. foot shopping centre, developed in 1996 by Gulf Pacific Group (GPG), received a "long-overdue" cultural facelift, said Bruce Russell, principal at GPG.
Two 12-foot red cedar Welcome Poles, several hardboard art pieces by Sto:lo artists, and illuminated Tzeachten logos have been installed throughout the plaza.
The renovation of the plaza also included a fresh colour scheme, new signage, and improved drainage systems.
Although the centre was built on Tzeachten property, and is owned by Tzeachten First Nation, "we didn't introduce enough First Nations artwork into the original development of this centre," Russell explained.
Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the band council and the property management committee, as well as a $400,000 investment from Tzeachten, this beautification project was set in motion to rectify that omission.
Tuesday's celebration primarily honoured the artists, Terry Horne (carver of the Welcome Poles), as well as Stan Greene, Fred Jackson, and Wayne Williams, who created pieces that have been installed along the centre's exterior walls.
Also present at the gathering were Grand Chiefs Frank Malloway and Joe Hall, Chief Glenda Campbell, band councillors Les Joe, Lawrence Roberts, Mel Williams Jr., as well as many other band and community members.
"This centre is quite a testimony to the business wisdom and intelligence of the Tzeachten community," Russell explained.
The 8.6 acre site, in a high-traffic area, had previously been a sports field. "Members of the Council realized that there was a higher and better use for this property," Russell continued.
The Tzeachten sports field was relocated to Bailey Road, where it now rents out its ample, well-landscaped fields, as well as a covered gazebo and kitchen facilities.
Chief Glenda Campbell proudly noted, "(The shopping centre) is a very good economic development. Vedder Plaza has really helped Tzeachten a lot." Atebe added that the plaza has almost always enjoyed 100 per cent occupancy.
The recent addition of Tzeachten artwork will only add to the shopping centre's success.
"Growing up as an artist, it's always a dream to have such an honour in your career," said Horne. "The welcome poles represent what we - as a people - respect."
The poles, which took about 90 hours to carve, include all of the traditional Tzeachten elements, Horne explained. The eagle represents the air, the bear holding salmon symbolizes the land and the sustenance. Mythology is shown through the thunderbird, and the whale represents the water.
Greene was proud to stand amongst the young artists who, he said "are showcasing the teachings that they've received about our people… carrying on the stories."
Jackson and Williams chose to represent the salmon in their artwork, to represent the traditional significance of the river which used to flow through Tzeachten land.
The artists were celebrated by the entire audience with an opening prayer and closing honour song, performed by Christie Purcell and Les Joe.
The ceremony concluded with a celebratory ribbon-cutting. "We can officially add this project to the Tzeachten First Nations community. The project is done, let the community enjoy it!" exclaimed Atebe.
Vedder Crossing plaza will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.