National Indigenous History Month - Shawn Hunt and 'Flipping the Bird'

Jul 2, 2020 3:30 PM ET
Article

For many people, the term "Flipping the Bird" refers to a very specific hand gesture.

But Vancouver-based artist Shawn Hunt hopes that, with a little luck, perhaps that phrase could carry a new meaning while sparking an important conversation about Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

Flipping the Bird is the title of Hunt's provocative sculpture currently on display at TD Wealth Management in the Bank's Vancouver head office.

Flipping the Bird was inspired by "ridicule poles," which are a specific type of totem pole carved and raised by a person after someone has mistreated them or their family. Ridicule poles serve as a visual reminder of a misdeed until the offender rectifies their wrongdoing.

Hunt said his ridicule pole, carved from red cedar, was created in response to the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples across Canada but, instead of just carving and raising a traditional ridicule pole he decided to take his piece one step further. In Hunt's version, he created an inverted ridicule pole, placing the eagle that would normally go on the top of the pole on the bottom instead.

Quite literally, flipping the bird.

In doing so, Hunt was able to create a piece that illustrated the injustices towards Indigenous Peoples in a way both Indigenous and non-Indigenous People would understand.

"I wanted to make a statement with this piece," Hunt said.

"Sure, I wanted to spark laughter with the title but most importantly, I wanted to spark conversation about the historical injustice of Indigenous Peoples. Flipping the Bird is my way of trying to reclaim our culture."

For Hunt – a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, who also has French and Scottish ancestry – the piece was intended to be an ongoing testament of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada.

It is meant to be a visual representation of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and Canada's progress in achieving them.

As a result, Hunt said, his piece, like the Truth and Reconciliation process, is not complete.

Hunt's intention is that the piece will be treated like a traditional ridicule pole – adding that it will only be flipped over once Canada has rectified its mistreatment towards Indigenous People.

"It only takes turning on the news to see that there is still progress to be made," he said.

"Apologies must be backed by actions," shared Hunt. "Only then can we start to consider reconciliation. If we reach that point during my lifetime, I will consider flipping it back over."

Hunt was born in Vancouver, B.C. to a family of artists where he learned traditional Heiltsuk design and wood and metal carving from his father, Bradley Hunt. Using these teachings, he was able to create the thought-provoking piece, and many others.

Flipping the Bird is currently on display at TD Wealth Management in the Bank's Vancouver head office, located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples - Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.

TD has a long-standing commitment to working with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.  Through ongoing efforts to educate our workforce on the past and living history of Indigenous Peoples, to attract Indigenous talent, and to support economic development and accumulation of wealth for Indigenous communities, TD is committed to actively supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action for corporate Canada.

To learn more about the Bank's commitment to help support a vibrant, dynamic and prosperous future for Indigenous Peoples and communities, please read the TD 2019 Indigenous Community Report.

Through its corporate citizenship platform, the TD Ready Commitment, TD is also helping to support the amplification of under-represented and diverse voices in arts and culture. To learn more about how TD is leveraging art as a catalyst for dialogue, please visit TD.com/tdreadycommint.com/art.