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Loggers find face in a tree

Klahoose carving settles question of territory
Dean Unger

A face carved into a tree trunk was discovered by forestry workers in a remote location up Toba Inlet. It had been staring down an ancient river valley in the rainforest for almost 200 years.

The recent chance discovery was made approximately 60 miles up the inlet and helped to silence a question of doubt regarding the geographic limits of Klahoose First Nation traditional territory.

Two employees of Fireball Contracting Ltd., Rob Reynolds and Keith McCrea, were working in a cutblock and turned around to discover the carved face. Klahoose Forestry Limited Partnership manager Kim Olney, informed Klahoose First Nation of the find.

“They had the good fortune to turn around and there it was staring back at them,” said Kathy Francis, Klahoose councillor, lead negotiator and historical and archaeological advisor for the nation. “This is an extremely remote area. It’s rugged and at times inaccessible. Yet here is this tree way up in the middle of the rainforest.”

Francis said the coordinates were recorded and the tree was ribboned off. A team of archaeologists and cultural leaders, including Erik Blaney of Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation, was assembled to travel up Yekwamen (Toba Inlet) to perform a traditional ceremony for the relocation of the culturally modified tree. Francis contacted Al Mackie and Owen Grant at the BC Archaeology Branch and George Field, conservator at the Royal BC Museum to combine efforts for the next steps.

“The team was assembled and en route within a week of the discovery,” Francis said. “We flew up and found it using GPS. There are a few different views on what it is. It may have been a trail marker. It was on what would have been the main trading trail. This tree was in between two other marked trees. The way it was situated, the face isn’t looking straight out at you; her face is almost on an angle. She was looking directly down the valley.”

The Klahoose discovery went a long way toward silencing reason of doubt from the federal government concerning the extent of Klahoose traditional land. “The area was known to be in Klahoose territory,” Francis said. “It has filled gaps in history for us. There was a strength of claim done against Klahoose a few years ago. We would argue the inlets, the lower reaches of the valleys and the river beds. The government would argue against it.”

Francis explained that the tree was removed from the site to avoid risk of blowdown as it was left exposed when most of the surrounding trees in the area were harvested. “We’ve taken it down and have moved it to Squirrel Cove where we’re making it safe to move into the community centre.”

Francis explained that careful attention has been paid to the preservation and the correct procedures around how to manage the find.

In addition to marking the traditional territory of first nations that once used this technique, anthropologist Franz Boas wrote that he believed such carvings may also have been used to mark ownership of specific trees intended to be used in construction or boat building. Once ownership was emblazoned on the side of the tree it could then be traded or preserved and harvested at a later date.

A handbook and registry of arborglyphs and culturally modified tree markings managed by the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations contains blazes and carvings that are estimated to run as far back as 5,000 years.

Following the Klahoose find, another carved face was discovered on the northeast of Vancouver Island, in ‘Namgis territory, deep in the heart of the Nimpkish Valley. Archaeologist Jim Stafford, of Coast Interior Archaeology company, said the arborglyphs will be studied to coax further detail and try to solve the emerging history the faces hold.

A plaque will be constructed at the site of the Klahoose find.