Wawadiťła, the Mungo Martin House, was constructed in Thunderbird Park by Mungo Martin, Chief Nakap’ankam, in 1953. Since then it has been – and still is – used for First Nations ceremonial purposes with the permission of his descendants. The late Chief Peter Knox of Fort Rupert, Mungo Martin’s grandson, was the rights holder until his death in March last year. In recognition of his passing and to respect the family’s loss in the correct way, Wawadiťła was closed and no events were held in the house for one year.
On Saturday, May 2, 2015, the Knox family held a Memorial Feast in Wawadiťła. First Nations guests, including many distinguished leaders and elders, came to honour the memory of a respected and high-ranking chief. Before his death, Chief Knox ‘stood up’ his son, David Knox, who now assumes his father’s position. David’s new status was formally recognized by the Kwakwaka’wakw chiefs at the Memorial Feast.
The large ceremonial curtain that hung in Wawadiťła during the Memorial Feast was Mungo Martin’s and is now part of the Royal BC Museum’s collection (catalogue number 20095). We are honoured to care for it while still making it available for use by the Knox family. On the curtain, Baxwbakwalanuxwsiwe’, the Cannibal Spirit, appears inside a circular motif flanked by two Thunderbirds. Martin painted it in Thunderbird Park in 1955 with the assistance of family members Henry Hunt, Tommy Hunt, Tony Hunt and Doug Cranmer. Usually curtains are painted on one side only but this curtain has the design on both front and back. This is because it was the centrepiece of a float that Martin and his family entered in the 1955 Victoria Day parade in Victoria: they wanted the design to be seen by spectators on both sides of the street.
As the ceremonial curtain and Wawadiťła itself demonstrate, Mungo Martin was rooted in the traditions and ceremonial life of his Kwakwaka’wakw heritage but also shared his cultural knowledge with non-aboriginal British Columbia and the world. In the same way, his descendants honour their culture by practicing it in the traditional way while furthering cultural understanding in the wider community. Wawadiťła embodies that perspective. The Royal BC Museum is privileged to look after the Mungo Martin House in Thunderbird Park and to have the Knox family as teachers and friends.