Last October, Sutikem Bikadi pulled an all-nighter.
For months, she had been working on an important project creating regalia that represented the ancient village of Spo7ez, which was shared by the Lil'wat and Squamish Nations at the confluence of Rubble Creek and the Cheakamus River. She had grown up working with leather under her parents' guidance, but this was her first time creating such an ambitious project on her own—all while teaching her skills to three young members of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's Youth Ambassador program.
"It took a lot of patience to say the least," she says. "It was huge for me to have the opportunity to create my own version of regalia for the first time—let alone create six at once."
Long before a date was set for the unveiling of the pieces, Bikadi bought tickets to see her favourite musician, singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez, in Vancouver. "I really wanted to go—then I found out the photo shoot [showcasing the regalia] was the next day," she says.
To be more precise, it was the next day at sunrise. In the end, she managed to make it back to the centre, sew on the final pieces that represent kelp cutter paddles—"a pretty big staple for ocean-going canoes"—around the neckline and then, along with five others, dress in the pieces to dance, sing, and pose for photos at Rainbow Park.
"I needed a snooze after that, but I'll never forget that day," she says.
The breathtaking photos that resulted from the photoshoot—captured the minute the sun rose over the mountain, sending streams of light through the mist onto the dancers—ultimately sparked AMBASSADORS, a photo exhibit that opened at the SLCC last Friday, Sept. 27.
One photo featuring Bikadi is hung next to her carefully crafted regalia, alongside portraits of about 25 others who have been part of the SLCC's Youth Ambassador program, all taken by Whistler photographer Logan Swayze.
The program, which has been running in the centre for the last 11 years, selects young people from the Squamish and Lil'wat nations and not only teaches them about business and cultural tourism, but also connects them with culture and tradition under the tutelage of elders, cultural leaders and community members.
"We wanted to celebrate our workers and thank them for everything they've done to keep us going over the years," curator Mixalhitsa7 Alison Pascal told a group gathered at the exhibit opening. "We're very proud of everybody."
For his part, after the sunrise photo shoot, Swayze returned to the SLCC for three sessions to chat with the portrait subjects, get to know them, and photograph them.
"It's pretty surreal, actually," he said, while taking in the show for the first time. "It's really beautifully done where they have the regalia next to the portraits. It adds to the environment. To see the work printed like this is pretty humbling. To have been able to have been part of this has been great."
Bryton Jameson, who works in conference services at the SLCC, felt Swayze captured everyone—and their demanding jobs—accurately. His portrait portrays him staring thoughtfully at the camera with a hint of a smile on his face as people whiz by in a blur.
"He said, 'I have an idea for you' and we started shooting the photos and it's a perfect representation of what we go through every day," he says. "There are always people around me."
Each photo is accompanied by a short bio, which Jameson says he also appreciates. "I think it's amazing," he adds. "When you're here, you only get to spend time with certain workers on certain days, so it gives you an idea of everyone who works here."
AMBASSADORS runs at the SLCC until March 2020.