For Island artist, designing Canucks goalie mask an act of reconciliation

If it weren’t for a shootout ending to the Canucks game Wednesday, Luke Marston might have missed the NHL debut of a goalie mask he designed and painted.

The Coast Salish artist from Stz’uminus First Nation was in a Hul’qumi’num language class that night, but he caught the end of the game, in time to watch goalie Braden Holtby make a winning stop for the team in a close shootout while wearing his artwork.

Watching a professional hockey player wear his work on television was exciting enough, but the fact all eyes were on the Canucks goalie made it extra special, Marston said.

“And now there’s like this big thing that the mask is lucky. And people are saying that it’s a good luck charm,” Marston said.

Marston offered to design a mask for Holtby after the goalie was criticized for a design by a Swedish artist that was seen by many as appropriating Coast Salish art. Holtby has since apologized.

Marston could see why so many people were upset about the mask, because Indigenous people have had their culture, language and ceremonies forcibly taken from them.

“And then just having the art form like this being taken, too, it was like, people just really get upset about that.”

He said he believed Holtby and Swedish mask artist David Gunnarrson had good intentions, and he appreciated that the goalie wanted to feature First Nations art on his mask. He wanted to help give the story a happy ending.

He happened to have Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini’s contact information, because the businessman has purchased Marston’s work before, and he offered to design a new mask.

“I ended up talking to Braden, and he felt really bad about it, as well as did David Gunnarsson, who is the original artist,” he said. “We just talked a little bit about the situation. I loved it that he wanted First Nations art on his mask.”

Marston shared several legends with Holtby before the hockey player decided what he wanted to wear on the ice.

The mask features an orca and a wolf based on a legend told to Marston by his mother about a man who is given the hunting prowess of an orca in the ocean and a wolf on the land.

Marston said one of the reasons Holtby liked the legend is because wolves and orcas are intelligent animals who communicate with each other and work as a team.

For Marston — who created a medicine box that was used as the centrepiece of ceremonies during testimony of residential school survivors to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — the story is proof reconciliation can happen at a person-to-person level if people are willing and open.

“I think things like this, where both sides are kind of working together to come up with a positive resolution, that’s what real reconciliation is,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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