Art project symbolizes pipeline pact

It has become the habit of TransCanada Pipelines to seal their aboriginal deals with a piece of original art.

Each time the company reaches an arrangement with one of the First Nations along its proposed Coastal GasLink route for liquefied natural gas, it marks the occasion with something original and aboriginal. The walls of their Prince George boardroom so far have items carved or painted by such creators as Susan Point, Henry Reese, Terry Star, Wilfred Sampson, and, as of Friday, a large circle of cedar has been added, carved and painted by Squamish First Nation artist George Hemeon.

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It was presented at the ceremonial signing of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation's agreement with the pipeline company.

Not only is Hemeon a noted B.C. aboriginal artist, he is one of the central people on TransCanada's staff in the company's efforts to negotiate fair deals for First Nations as the pipeline makes its theoretical way across northern B.C.

He thinks, long and hard, every day, about what this pipeline could mean to the affected First Nations, and how industry in general has had to change its conversation with communities, and become more inclusive in the profits and meaningful in the consultation about how and where and who will be involved in any given business idea.

That ponderance is reflected in the cedar wheel.

"The dominant figure is the raven, which in a lot of aboriginal cultures represents the bringer of the sun which means the bringer of life, so there is also the sun represented here," Hemeon said, walking viewers through the new artwork. "The smaller figure in its mouth is the human figure. It symbolizes the beginning of this relationship, a transformation of the relationship, going forward. There is a connection to the relationship, and a trust we are putting in each other, and it is like a new life being born, a new way forward together."

Hemeon has art pieces on display or in collections as far away as Japan, but has so much responsibility on the negotiation team that he has had little time for new creations. He carves regularly to keep the skills as sharp as the knives, but it isn't as much as he'd like. Therefore, a commemorative gift like this imposed on him a feeling of particular responsibility to say something meaningful with the wood.

The skills of art and the human side of business came to Hemeon through dedicated study. He graduated from the University of the Fraser Valley with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in criminal justice and minoring in applied ethics and political philosophy. He now sits on the UFV board of governors and was named to the school's Top 40 Alumni list.

After obtaining a Master's degree from Dalhousie University, he went to work for BC Hydro where he played a role in creating the Crown corporation's aboriginal procurement policy. He worked also for the Abbotsford school district with a focus on aboriginal curriculum, and it was there that his carving took off, as he and students worked on wood together. He kept at it to the point his work was featured at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

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