WFN's latest public art project, sənsisyustən House of Learning

At a community meeting early on in the process of the $9 million sənsisyustən House of Learning renovation project, art and culture was determined to be a key goal.

The first step involved a public request for proposals to find artists which, through the process, WFN found two Member artists, Janine Lott and Patricia Raphael.

Janine was commissioned to provide the artwork on the outside front of school, plus the four food chief panels inside. Patricia Raphael was commissioned to provide the art for the inside-centre stair-risers and also the naming of the classrooms including related drawings. 

Lakeisha Rose Barnes completed the final edit and the Okanagan word references. As well, Rachelle Fraser spent many long hours fine tuning and perfecting the artwork, completing the digital clean-up of the artwork line drawings, sizing and colour coding. Together everyone attended many meetings to complete the project as one team effort.

The artist visions went to WFN Chief and Council, the school board, plus WFN’s public art committee. 

Meiklejohn Architects, the lead architects for the school expansion project, were then responsible to transfer the artists’ visions into reality by taking the artwork and putting it into CAD software. A manufacturer needed to be found to cut and bend the pieces, and each piece was then painted and fitted into place.  

For additional photos, see the photos section of WFN’s facebook or its Nov 21 '19 post.

For more information on the school renovation and expansion project, see WFN’s Sept 27 '19 Media Release.

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About the front of school artwork: The syilx/Okanagan people have been placed here by k̓ʷln̓cutn̓ (creator) to care for the tm̓xʷúlaʔxʷ uɬ siw̓ɬkʷ (land and water) and all that is connected to it. captíkʷɬ (creation stories) are passed down from one generation to the next and contain sacred laws and teachings about living as a part of tm̓xʷúlaʔxʷ. The artwork is inspired by the captíkʷɬ and sqilxʷcaw̓t (ways of being). 

sənsisyustən/sn̓sisyústn̓ refers to "The place where you can be anything you choose to be." At the heart of our syilx education is WFN’s Youth and Elders working hand in hand together. The characters throughout the art piece depicts this intergenerational learning as well as the influence of the captíkʷɬ in everyday life. Central to the art piece is pql̓qin̓ eagle with sun and moon. Eagle as master of the sky represents striving for excellence. Eagle has the unique ability to fly above storms thus overcoming obstacles/challenges to achieve goals. 

The job of coyote, sn̓klip the trickster is to make tm̓xʷúlaʔxʷ liveable for the coming people by taming and transforming the people eaters. Supporting sn̓klip (coyote) is mole/púl̓laʔxʷ, his devoted wife and fox, his older brother. Fox/x̌ʷʕaylxʷ has the gift to revive sn̓klip even when only a piece of fur is all that remains. 

The four food chief’s skm̓xist (bear), n̓ty̓tyix (salmon), spiƛ̓m̓ (bitterroot) and síyaʔ (saskatoon berry) were tasked with the responsibility to provide the coming people with what they would eat and what they would need to live.

The activities in the art work have evolved since time immemorial yet in practice today they still carry with them the teachings of our ancestors and captíkʷɬ.

About WFN’s Public Art Program: WFN’s Public Art Program was established by its Public Art Committee (PAC), September 2014. The Program is a collaborative, collective, creative process between WFN, practicing artists, and community members. Public art creatively addresses the needs and aspirations of the WFN community while also acknowledging WFN and syilx/Okanagan heritage. The PAC promotes syilx culture through the arts; provides advice and supports activities that advance public art; and administers a selection process for commissioning and/or purchasing public art. Its vision is to promote syilx culture through the encouragement of local artists and the display of art throughout the community, both on and off reserve. Over a dozen examples of public art, including locations, can be found in the WFN Public Art Guide.

About sənsisyustən House of Learning:
The sənsisyustən House of Learning is a Group 2 Independent Elementary School providing BC curriculum with integrated syilx (Okanagan) perspectives. It opened in 1994, and offers Junior Kindergarten to grade 5 classes. It is a private school open to all students, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, living on or off reserve. Its mission is to deliver a superior, flexible, learner-centered education, enriched by the syilx teachings, language and culture. For more information, visit the sənsisyustən section of the WFN website.
For more information, please contact: 

Westbank First Nation
T: 250 769 4999 | Email