Essay Regarding A Very Special Place at the UBC Longhouse

Natasha Ginger
Nuu-chah-nulth Nation

Sty-Wet-Tan is Hun’q’umin’um for “Spirit of the West Wind”. Sty-Wet-Tan is the Great hall on the West Side of the Longhouse at the University of British Columbia. This Great hall is a place where all people of different First Nation cultures and people of both the University and wider community are welcome to share, experience and learn the different First Nation cultural knowledge’s. Respect and reverence for that knowledge is also taught in Sty-Wet-Tan, where participants can take the new knowledge learned and use them throughout their livelihood. Sty-Wet-Tan is also a place where people can create relationships with the community.

The Great hall is a familiar and comfortable setting for many people that are a part of the University’s community, one example would be many of the First Nations students that attend most the events that take place within the Sty-Wet-Tan hall. The Great hall is based on the traditional Longhouse, yet it has modern components to its architectural structure. Sty-Wet-Tan is about three thousand and six hundred feet long: It consists of a dance floor, and a stage. Sty-Wet-Tan holds receptions, performances, workshops, conferences, seminars, feasts and banquets. The Great hall tends to connect different people of the university’s community, and it is also a place that many First Nations people, may feel helps them to connect with their ancestors. The ceremonies and events that take place here seem to give knowledge and experience that is of a great importance, and that is quite sacred. These knowledge’s given seem to center people spiritually, and make people in tune with their identities. It makes one realize that one is a part of their ancestors. These teaching’s and experiences make many feel at home. The hall is located within the Longhouse, which is also known as the home away from home.

Sty-Wet-Tan is a place that I visit quite often. It is a place that presents and represents cultural and artistic expression, and at the same time traditional knowledge of the ancestors. Sty-Wet-Tan is a powerful place. Some people rent out the hall for special occassions, such as Weddings. This place is one example of how significant the Sty-wet-tan hall is to others spiritually. The great hall is an important place where the community can gather together for a common purpose.

Sty-Wet-Tan is located in the Longhouse at the University of British Columbia. The Sty-Wet-Tan Hall is located in the East Side of the Longhouse, upon traditional Musqueam territory. The Musqueam community is often thanked for the use of their lands, during the ceremony, at the opening of ceremonies.

The Sty-Wet-Tan Hall is a place where people gather, and special events take place. Workshops are held that cover First Nations teaching’s, and the ways to respect and utilize those teaching’s. Workshops regarding First Nation issues also take place. Special gathering’s for talking circles, dancing, drumming, singing, and smudging (a cleansing ritual) often occur, where everyone is welcome. Anything that has to do with the First Nations peoples, their cultural traditions, cultural knowledge and concerns take place in the Sty-Wet-Tan Hall. This Great hall is also rented out to those who wish to use it, where their special events, gatherings, and ceremonies can take place.

It is a home away from home for many, where people are invited then comforted by the knowledge, exciting events, and experiences that are given. A collaboration of artistic and cultural expressions, and experiences of sharing knowledge take place at Sty-Wet-Tan hall. Sty-Wet-Tan’s artistic expressions surrounds its visitors with comfort. These visual expressions provide the meaning both of sharing and receiving the knowledge of different cultural backgrounds, and the coming together of these different Nations.

The Sty-Wet-Tan Hall has four Houseposts, which support the Longhouse structure; these house posts are located at the southeast entrance, southwest entrance, the northwest corner, and the north east corner of the Great hall. The importance of these posts , and the other forms of visual artistic expression is to announce the different First Nations people that exist, and the different identities of the University of British Columbia.

Lyle Wilson, a Haisla artist, created the Housepost at the southeast entrance to Sty-Wet-Tan. He contributed to this Housepost the symbols of his parents’ clan houses in Kitamaat Village. These symbols are of a beaver that is facing out and an eagle that is facing inward (Longhouse Website, 2003).

It seems as though Lyle Wilson is sharing his identity through the representation of his Nation.

Susan Point, is a Coast Salish artist, printmaker and jeweler of the Musqueam nation carved the Housepost at the southwest entrance to the Great hall.

This house post is of a Raven and a spindle of Whorl. The Raven is a Trickster, a mythological person that created everything. The wealth of nobility within the coast tribes is shown through the eyes of copper. His wings are held in close for warmth, which show the symbol of the powerful role of women in Northwest culture. The spindle whorl is a traditional tool used by Coast Salish women. The more wool bearing dogs she owned the wealthier a woman was. Two large eyes look out at the viewer, revealing the human spirit that lives within the Raven (Longhouse Website, 2003).

Susan Point is demonstrating her identity through the sharing of her First Nations ancestral knowledge.

The house posts at the north west corner of the Great hall consists of three human figures, the wolf, and the wolf pup.

Chief Walter Harris and his son Rodney, who are Gitskan artists from Kispiox, did this particular post. These five figures are facing inwards. The three human figures represent the students that come to the university to learn: it depicts the importance of listening twice as much as speaking. The wolf is personified. The wolf pup, on the other hand, looks like an animal. The wolves are of Rodney’s mother’s clan (Longhouse Website, 2003).

These figures not only teach a lesson to students, but it also shows the artists identities, through the representation of their family crests. This post is also interesting in that it display’s a collaboration of different First Nation backgrounds.

The final Housepost is located at the north east corner of the great hall.

Stan Bevan is a Tahltan-Tlingit-Tsimshian artist, while Ken McNeil is a Tahltan-Tlingit-Nisga’a artist. This post consists of a Man and Raven Facing Inward, The spirit within the Raven, and the unity of all – which gives the illusion that these faces are of one person. This representation of the Raven shows him as one who gives knowledge (Longhouse Website, 2003).

It seems that Stan Bevan and Ken McNeil share their ancestral knowledges through the integration of their Nations’ knowledge.

The two cedar roof beams, were created by Don Yeomans, a Haida artist from Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands.

He started carving with his Auntie Freda Diesling. These two beams were carved in 1992 in the Great Hall. These beams represent a sea Lion and a Killer Whale (Longhouse Website, 2003).

Through his artistic expression, his identity with his Nations is identified.

Sty-Wet-Tan hall has a ceremonial door that only is open once a year during graduation, and is located in the north end. Upon this door there is a little picture of an eagle within a circle border. This is an engraved outline that goes into the cedar.

On the West entrance door of the Sty-wet-tan hall there is an engraving of two salmon, and four humans. This represents the circle of life, and the interdependence between the salmon and the humans. It is believed that the humans are dependent on the salmon for food, and that the humans provide life to the salmon by keeping the waters clean. This explains the importance of the respect salmon needs to receive from the humans. This is a reminder for humans to take care of the environment. Bradley Hunt, of the Kwak‘waka’wakw Nation, created this artistic expression in 1995. It is painted both red and black, and engraved with the traditional motifs of the Kwak’waka’wakw Nation. It seems as though these expressions in Sty-Wet-Tan hall are that of the artists and their identities as a person, of their First Nations, for Crests and different Nation styles exist. The sharing of these creations is a means for the artists to share their identities. The interesting thing is that each of these artists are of different Nations, and they created these experiences for Sty-Wet-Tan, and were aware that these Nations would be represented as a whole. It is evident that the goal of these artistic expressions, are to share different identities of First Nations people as a collective whole. This very much reflects the purpose of what the Sty-Wet-Tan hall’s objective is. The Sty-Wet-Tan hall brings together people from different First Nations, and people from the four directions of earth; through this coming together different frames of knowledge can be shared.

The Great hall and its meaning are to exist by both the creators, and the sponsor. Jack Bell, of the Musqueam Nation sponsored the creation of the Sty-Wet-Tan hall, in 1991. It is a privilege for the University of British Columbia’s community that Sty-Wet-Tan exists. Many special events take place here, such as the sharing of cultural tradition and knowledge. Through the events of Sty-Wet-Ten the traditional experiences of First Nation ancestors, and of different cultures, is able to be shared.

Sty-Wet-Tan hall is quite unique, in that its purpose is to share cultural knowledge and traditional practices of different First Nations people, with those who are concerned and interested. The Sty-Wet-Tan hall represents the collaboration of different Nations, and different people, where all people are welcome to most of the functions that take place. This is a symbol of the University’s community and out are capable is supported to learn about or aware of different cultures, and cultural practices. The Hall supports the idea of globalization, or the integration of different knowledge’s and even makes sure that through the teaching’s, one understands the need for respect and reverence of these knowledge’s. In other words, through providing cultural knowledge respectfully the First Nations are able to empower themselves through culture. Sty-Wet-Tan supports the disintegration of past ignorance’s, and the voice of the truth of these cultures. Through providing First Nation knowledge and awareness, the existence of different First Nation Cultures and the teaching’s remains, and the cultures are empowered through that remaining in existence.

The University of British Columbia, is an institution of higher learning, and Sty-Wet-Tan supports that idea of higher learning along with the idea of cultures moving forward to create new integration of knowledge, and through that supports the idea of culture living on. Representations of different First Nation cultures take place, along with presentations on leadership, the role of cultural knowledge, and on the respect of that knowledge. These are all a part of the ideologies supported by the Sty-Wet-Tan hall.

Through the collaboration of different First Nation people a representation of different individuals and their nations exist. This collaboration was to support the sharing and integration of culture. Sty-Wet-Tan shows the idea of Globalization, and the bringing together of different cultures. All of these acceptances of one receiving a collection of different knowledge are shown through the events that take place, and the visual expressions that remain in the Sty-Wet-Tan hall. This idea of sharing and the involvement reminds me of the integrity shown in the film Box of Treasures, by Chuck Olin and the U’mista Center. In Box of Treasures the idea of a community coming together to organize cultural knowledge so they remain to exist today; exists in the involvement of the Sty-Wet-Tan hall as well

The Sty-Wet-Tan hall is a place where First Nations people and people of different cultures come together to share their ideas and ancestral knowledge’s. Through presenting and receiving different ancestral knowledge and the importance of respect and responsibility of having that knowledge. The participants can become Leaders and be empowered through ones own cultural identities. Relationships are created through the sharing of knowledge with the University’s community. It is also important to have this knowledge known and alive, and to create an awareness of a race that still exists. All four corners come together to hear of and share the joys of what is left of First Nations ancestral knowledge's, and the collaboration of different First Nations cultures often occurs within Sty-Wet-Tan. Sty-Wet-Tan helps to create a community through the coming together of the knowledge of different First Nation cultural knowledge, and of the sharing of that knowledge to the rest of the University’s community.

Works Cited:

Web sites:

2003 About the Houseposts in Sty-Wet-Tan, the Great Hall, online: (accessed April 2003)


Olin, Chuck/ U’mista Cultural Center
1980 Box of Treasures (VHS) Watertown MA: Documentary Educational Resources.


First Nations House of Learning. The University of British Columbia