Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers Timothy Masso and Hjalmer Wenstob are co-recipients of the 2020 Pacific Rim Arts Society’s Rainy Coast Arts Award.
Their names are forever connected to a prestigious list of west coast artists, including: Christine Lowther (inaugural Rainy Coast recipient in 2014), Joe Martin (2015), Mark Hobson (2016), Signy Cohen (2017), Joanna Streetly (2018), and Vi Mundy and Jacqueline Chamberland (2019 co-recipients).
“To win the [Rainy Award] is not just an acknowledgement by a small organization on the west coast, but it really speaks to the impact of your endeavour and how much it really is valued by the community. It’s not just a sports days ribbon, I think it really is an acknowledgement of significance,” said past PRAS president Mark Penney during the Nov. 8 AGM via Zoom Video.
For Masso, Penney said he has distinguished himself from a very young age as a champion of Nuu-chah-nulth language throughout the region, Canada and beyond.
“So many people have helped me on my journey for learning my language. There are so many thank yous. I have and I don’t think I have the time to do it. One thank you I want to put out there is elder Richard Mundy. He has helped me so much,” said Masso during the AGM.
Masso is currently in his third year studying Language Revitalization at the University of Victoria as well as finishing his Grade 12 courses online. He has been advocating for language since he was nine years old. Most recently, he helped the Ucluelet Co-op install Nuu-chah-nulth language signage as part of the major renovations project.
“Now we have language at the Co-op and there are so many people stepping up to bring language back into the community and it’s so wonderful to see just the fact the language is coming back,” Masso told the Westerly.
After learning the Nuu-chah-nulth alphabet and hearing all the different sounds, Masso said he can actually hear the language in the waves and the land that surrounds him.
“The world that we live in is a living world of language and culture. I think learning language not only connects you to the culture, but it also connects you to the land,” he said.
Masso encourages everyone to continue speaking little words like Kleco (thanks) or Cuu (goodbye) in day-to-day conversations.
“Keep saying those. That’s the first big step to learning language. Don’t be afraid of judgment or offending anyone if you say it wrong. When I was first learning language I was pronouncing everything wrong. That’s just one step of learning,” Masso said.
Both Masso and Wenstob agree how wonderful it is to share the Rainy Coast award. They share a deep bond or “singular synergy” as PRAS executive director Sue Payne says.
About eight years ago, Wenstob underwent a brain operation. Masso stepped up to help him navigate the world post-surgery and that included taking notes for him as he studied arts the University of Victoria. When my brother got really depressed, recalls Masso, Elders at the First Peoples House would brush him down with cedar bows and do a prayer in Coast Salish.
“I could see the strength that it gave him. Once Hjalmer started feeling better, I wanted to learn my language from that. That’s what started by quest for language learning,” said Masso.
Wenstob, who owns Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet, said he is inspired by his younger brother and the work that he does.
“The work that [Masso] does is about being humble and about being present and creating space. It’s a humbling and honouring feeling right now,” Wenstob said during the Nov. 8 virtual AGM.
“I look forward to being able to celebrate together when the time is right and we can come together in a safe way. I feel like one of the richest men in the world when I think back to all the people that have supported me along my journey,” Wenstob continued. He went on to acknowledge artist Carly Butler and the Nocture 2020 exhibit they worked on together for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Penney eloquently describes Wenstob’s art.
“He tends to take things from a traditional perspective and smash them directly to a contemporary outlook. His work is very subtle and it’s nuanced, but it’s incredibly potent at its core,” Penney said.