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Walter Harris

Oil on Canvas, 18 x 40, 1984
Walter Harris, Chief Sim’oogit Geel
Artist, Carver

Walter Harris
  • Hereditary chief of Gitksan.
  • Born in Kispiox, British Columbia.
  • Received the Order of Canada.
  • His totem poles are situated in many places including Baltimore, Maryland; San Francisco, California; and Rochester, New York.
  • His carvings also appear above the doors in the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Walter Harris, the Hereditary Chief of Kispiox village of the Gitxsan Nation, was elected Head Chief at 26 and took on the name Chief Geel. His family descended from the Fireweed clan and that symbol—and that of their relatives, the Killer Whale clan— played a large part in the images that Chief Geel later produced in his artwork. He worked as a carpenter and was convinced by his family to take a course in jewellery-making at Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art at ‘Ksan. Chief Geel followed an interest in woodcarving and became the senior instructor of wood sculpture at the school. The ceremonial masks and headdresses he created won some renown. In the early 1970s, with help from friends, he carved the first traditional totem pole constructed in modern times, then continued to expand his repertoire. He studied traditional painted and carved housefronts and created doors for the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, among others. Chief Geel’s sculptures and totem poles stand in Canada, the United States and at the Canadian Embassy in Paris. In 1978, Harris was appointed to the Canadian Government's Fine Arts Committee, and he was honoured with the Order of Canada (2005) for his dedication to art and the perpetuation of Gitxsan cultural heritage. Besides being a master carver and an inspiration for cultural resurgence, Chief Geel always took his community duties seriously, making them his first priority despite his fame as an artist.

For more information about First Nations in B.C., resources available at UBC, or information about these individuals, visit the Resources section.

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