Restored artwork is unveiled on the side of the freshly repainted Skookum Jim Friendship Centre in Whitehorse on Sept. 10, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Skookum Jim Friendship Centre unveils restored crests

Tlingit carver and painter Keith Wolfe Smarch restored killer whale, eagle on outside of building

A beloved Yukon hub is looking new again.

Whitehorse’s Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, long a place for Yukon First Nations citizens and other Indigenous people in the territory to gather and find supports, has received a new coat of paint.

Tlingit carver and painter Keith Wolfe Smarch has also restored two crests that grace the front of the centre on Third Avenue — a killer whale and eagle, symbols of the Dak`laweidí clan that both Smarch and the centre’s namesake belong to.

The restored crests were unveiled at a ceremony the morning of Sept. 10, their teal, bright-red and black accents refreshed and now covered by a protective layer to preserve their colours.

Smarch himself was unable to attend the ceremony as he had harvested a sheep the night before. However, several Yukon officials spoke about the importance of the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre in the community.

“It’s about connection. It’s about who we are,” Assembly of First Nations Yukon regional chief Kluane Adamek, who had previously worked at the centre as a summer student coordinator, told a small crowd. “So, Skookum Jim is a symbol of that.”

MP Larry Bagnell, who served as the centre’s president and chair of finance, as well as Yukon deputy premier Ranj Pillai, both touched upon the facility’s unique position of being able to bring people together.

Tlingit carver and painter Keith Wolfe Smarch’s restored eagle art on the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre in Whitehorse on Sept. 10, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Tlingit carver and painter Keith Wolfe Smarch’s restored killer whale art on the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre in Whitehorse on Sept. 10, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

“There’s many places in this city where individuals will go to seek support and help but when you walk in that door, you know that it’s going to be comfortable, you know that people are not going to be judgmental and you know that people are going to open their arms,” Pillai said.

“… And we need more of that in the world.”

Maria Benoit, the centre’s former executive director, recalled initially hiring Smarch to create the first copies of the crest.

“When we first hired Keith to do these designs, we asked him, ‘Well, what colours?’” she recalled.

“… Keith was the one that instrumented the colours and the design and he said, ‘We have to go with the Tlingit colours.’”

Those colours are teal green and red, the same colours that coat the exterior of the building.

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis commended Smarch’s “tremendous work” on restoring the crests, and said that they carry a “tremendously strong message to our entire community and beyond our community.”

He highlighted the city’s policy requiring one per cent of construction costs for new buildings to be allocated towards public artwork, and said that he hoped more Indigenous artists would start looking towards the city for funding.

He noted several murals the city already has, including one on the Yukon Chamber of Mines building featuring Kate Carmacks, and the one on the side of Staples featuring Wendy and Angel Carlick.

“They’re all very important, they’re all very significant, I think we need more of them,” Curtis said of the murals. “I really hope that more organizations will consider adding cultural artworks to the exterior of their buildings as well, because we know the Yukon’s not just about the gold rush. I’d like to see every single museum, every place of history giving that history the respect that it deserves.”

The Skookum Jim Friendship Centre is also in the process of restoring other pieces of artwork within its building.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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