Spring 2003,
Volume 24, Number 1

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The girl and the wolf THE PAINTED CURTAIN con't

This canvas curtain represents 200 years of family history. It forms the centrepiece of Uchucklesaht ceremonies honouring a girl’s passage into womanhood and it is one of two that belong to Gloria Frank’s family. It was recovered last year after several decades in the possession of a New York-based art collector. A key story, as told by Frank, is represented by the image of the girl and the wolf:

“In the Mowachaht area (of Nootka Sound) a fatal disease was on the rampage. The girl’s parents were afraid that their lives as a people would completely be gone so they prepared a canoe full of supplies for their only daughter. They said, ‘Go! Go, everyone here is dying.’

They pushed the canoe out; she paddled by herself; she didn’t really know where she was going. She travelled the rest of the evening. A storm was coming but she kept paddling. The storm became unmanageable...it was dark, so dark she couldn’t see what was in front of her. In her weariness she fell asleep. She dreamt about a bird that sang her a beautiful song. (That bird is on the curtain.) When she woke up she remembered the song and she also woke up to winds that were stronger than ever. It wasn’t long before the canoe flipped over. She lost everything... the canoe, the supplies, everything.

She started to swim in any direction. She swam and she swam until she suddenly felt something... something furry. She got a grip on it and held it until they reached shore and she realized that what she had a grip on all this time was a wolf crossing from one place to another. It too had got stuck in the miserable storm. The land that this wolf and this girl had swam to belonged to the Tla-o-qui-ahts (Clayoquot). The Tla-o-qui-ahts took this young girl in and raised her as their own. When she was old enough she married a man from Ucluelet; they had one daughter (my grandmother, Ellen, who raised me).”

Holly Nathan is a Victoria journalist and University of Victoria Writing instructor.

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