VIU awards honorary degree to Coast Salish Master Carver and Traditional Storyteller

Portrait photo of William Good

ts’usqinuxun’, William Good has played a major role in revitalizing the Coast Salish art form. Photo Credit: Sean Fenzl

June 15, 2022 - 11:45am

ts’usqinuxun’, William Good, a Hereditary Chief from the Snuneymuxw First Nation, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters at VIU’s June 23 convocation ceremony.

ts’usqinuxun’, William Good has played an integral role in the revitalization of Coast Salish art.

“When I first started, nobody understood the art, nobody recognized the art, people were learning through different books. Now there’s a lot of younger people doing this art and it’s a more recognized art form,” he says.  

In recognition of the decades he spent researching what he refers to as the visual language of the Coast Salish people, as well as producing art and sharing his knowledge with the community, ts’usqinuxun’, a Snuneymuxw Hereditary Chief, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) June 23 convocation ceremony.

“For me, it’s a dream come true, a dream that I never thought I’d ever see become reality in my lifetime,” he says. “It’s a real honour, it’s reconciliation.”

ts’usqinuxun’ is widely recognized today for bringing this visual language, the Snuneymuxw Coast Salish art form, or Hul’qumi’num art, back from the brink of extinction and practising the art of storytelling and documenting history through this visual medium.

But becoming an artist was far from his mind as a young boy. He learned the stories and protocols from his grandfather William Good, a tribal law keeper, and he used to watch his father carve canoes. However, he didn’t have the patience to do art himself at that time; his first career after graduating from high school was as a heavy-duty mechanic.

Two men influenced his eventual move towards an art career. The late Leslie John, a well-known artist and shaman, visited him in his bedroom one day when he was a teenager and shared a vision he had about ts’usqinuxun’ becoming the next important artist for the community. Later in life when he was working in Vancouver, he took art classes with the late Samuel Nelson, who was well-known for his jewelry.

In the decades that followed, ts’usqinuxun’ tirelessly researched the Coast Salish art form, studying faxed photos from museums and archives, collecting knowledge from Elders and painstakingly learning techniques. During that time, he learned from numerous artists including his cousin, Master Coast Salish Artist Simon Charlie. His wife, Sandra Moorhouse-Good, worked alongside him, aided him in his decades of research and development, and together they produced many collaborative works.

Jesse Birch, Curator of the Nanaimo Art Gallery and lead nominator of ts’usqinuxun’ for the honorary degree, calls his contributions as artist and historian “immense.”

“Through this hard work he has developed a visual language that draws from tradition but speaks with a warmth and elegance that is uniquely his own,” says Birch. “Without his work, there would be a significant gap in local artistic and cultural history, and younger generations wouldn’t have access to the same scope of knowledge." 

Many Nanaimo residents will be familiar with ts’usqinuxun’s artwork, including the “Welcome” Poles for the City of Nanaimo at Duke Point, Spindle Whorls for both the Regional District of Nanaimo and the Ministry of Forests, the te’tuxwtun Pole at VIU, the Supernatural Eagle carving at the Nanaimo Art Gallery and, most recently, the Tillicum Lelum Totem Pole to honour MMIWG2S+, the latter two he carved with his son Joel Good. He also contributed knowledge and carvings for the permanent Snuneymuxw Exhibit at the Nanaimo Museum. In 2018, ts’usqinuxun’ was awarded the prestigious City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award, “Honour in Culture.”

ts’usqinuxun’ remembers being ridiculed in public school for speaking Hul’qumi’num and being told that he would be best suited for trade school. In light of this history, his daughter, Aunalee Boyd-Good, says the honorary degree gives her hope that things are changing.  

“It validates the work that he did,” she says. “This level of recognition shows the importance of Indigenous knowledge and education through oral history, storytelling and visual arts, and acknowledges his role in revitalizing this complex this visual literary system and his extensive efforts to bring this critical information into today’s cultural landscape. We would not be where we are today without his life’s work.”

In his retirement years, ts’usqinuxun’ continues to carve master works and collaborates with his daughters, Sophia and Aunalee, and their mother, Sandra, to create garment designs for Ay Lelum - The Good House of Design. He records music with his daughters and leads cultural protocol at events, often singing and drumming in the community. He has also passed the traditional art form on to his son, accomplished artist and carver, W. Joel Good, and they carve master works together. 

“I would tell graduates not to see anything as an impossibility,” he says. “Set your goals and work hard. Achieving them doesn’t usually happen overnight, it might take years.”

ts’usqinuxun’ will share his words of wisdom for VIU’s 2022 graduates at the 2:30 pm ceremony on June 23 in the Nanaimo campus gymnasium. The event will also be livestreamed on VIU’s Facebook page. Visit the VIU Convocation website for more details.

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Media Contact:

Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Manager, Vancouver Island University

C: 250.619.6860 | E: Jenn.McGarrigle@viu.ca | T: @VIUNews


Tags: Community Engagement | Announcements