Weaving stories: A conversation with Coast Salish artist Qwiyahwult-hw, Stuart Pagaduan

The story behind the design for The Discourse’s 2021 limited-edition totes.

Qwiyahwult-hw (Stuart Pagaduan) is a well-known Coast Salish artist and teacher. “Born and raised here in Cowichan, raised by my grandparents just up the road here in S-amunu,” he says. 

“I’ve had the luxury of having a big family — of parents, most of my life, and grandparents, most of my life — which definitely has anchored me with language, traditions, and culture. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for my family.” 

Stuart studied Coast Salish art under the late, great Seletze’ (Delmar Johnnie). “I’ve been doing art maybe for about 28 years now,” Stuart says. “I always want to say, ‘15,’ but the years are stacking up.”

“The most important thing I share with my students is that, as an artist, I was given an opportunity,” he says. “Shapes and colours and drawing and painting — that will come later.”

When the team at The Discourse decided to create our first-ever Discourse swag, we wanted it to reflect our commitment to community, listening and challenging the status quo. We also wanted to support a local artist and uplift their work. And so, we commissioned Stuart to create a design for limited-edition tote bags, a thank-you gift for the supporters who make our community-powered journalism possible.

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We asked Stuart for something that would carry a sense of place, honouring the Coast Salish territories where we work. 

“We’ve been here 15,000 years plus, and we have an amazing story to tell. So, as for the logo, I’ve created what is called a spindle whorl. And that is an iconic tool to the Salish people,” he says.

“We use this tool to spin mountain goat wool, plus dog hair, to make some beautiful weave blankets,” says Stuart. “And blankets are a big part of our ceremony.”

Spindle whorl discs were often carved or decorated, and these objects remain integral to Coast Salish artistic imagery. A long stick is inserted through the hole in the middle of the disc to twist and wrap the yarn. 

“It is a big part of our culture,” says Stuart. 

Related article: What happened to the Cowichan wool carding machine?

The world-famous Cowichan sweaters came out of this tradition, Stuart explains. “The Cowichan sweater was born from European craft plus the Cowichan know-how. So again, it has something to do with textiles, it has something to do with the skill that we’ve had for thousands of years.”

Stuart’s design is a teaching tool, one that helps connect people to the land and its history. “I see how we can weave stories into this — and the puns that come along with it,” he says, with a smile. 

stuart pagaduan totes
Stuart Pagaduan’s design shows two figures that share one mouth, surrounded by two protective eagle spirits. Photo by Philip McLachlan/The Discourse

The design shows two figures that share one mouth, one voice. It represents speaking the truth and working together, Stuart explains. “In our culture, we have a common phrase, and you probably heard about it, nuts’a’ maat shqwalowon, meaning that we work together as one.”

It’s a reflection of the importance of community journalism, too, he says. “Who are the eyes and ears of our community and what are we seeing?” he asks. 

Beside the two figures are representations of two eagle spirits, Stuart says. “They’re always there to protect us on our walk, on our journey in life. We believe that we live here today on this earth, but we also believe we are blessed with our ancestors who watch over us every day.”

The artwork serves as an anchor, connecting land, culture and history to The Discourse’s work of sharing stories and bringing light to community issues, Stuart adds. “To have a Salish face that represents that — I think it’s a tremendous honour.”

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